For me, April 20 or 4/20 will never be about marijuana. No, I’m not much of a stoner. But also it’s because saying “April 20” never sounds fun or carefree. When referencing it, for me and thousands of others, it has a much darker feeling and represents a life-changing day. A life-ending day for some.
And, yes, it’s been 16 years. I’ve lived longer after that day than I lived before it. A statement that simultaneously feels perfectly true while at the same time feels completely impossible. Kind of the same way I feel like I had both an uncommon high school experience and a completely average one.
But every year this day comes. Every stinkin’ year. I know it’s coming because I get a weird feeling in my stomach. Then my Facebook feed turns into hundreds of profile photos of Columbines. And I guess since about year 3 or 4 I thought it should not be a big deal. But no matter how much I try to make it not a big deal, it is. It just is.
And obviously it is a big deal for a lot of people. For those who lost someone. For those who watched it unfold for hours and hours. I was lucky that day. I got out quickly. I didn’t see anything. So, all these years later, it should be done.
But, it’s not.
Years later, I’ve discovered that regardless of what I did or did not see on that day, of what I did or did not experience first hand, it changed things. It proved how easily everything you think you know about the world and your life can be erased. It proved how much impact two angry, misguided, or some might say evil people can have on your life. It was a day that someone planned to murder me, and by some luck it didn’t work out. I am still here.
But it wasn’t that way for everyone. Some people died that day. People I knew or knew of. It still seems unthinkable, but in an instant, it happened.
And some people struggle with the “how”. How can this have happened? How could this have been prevented? They get wrapped up in the hows, trying to figure out who is to blame. Maybe they want to stop it from happening again. Or maybe they are just angry and need someone they can direct their anger at. It’s hard when crazy people do things that defy explanation. We can’t blame them, especially when they aren’t here anymore. So we need to try to blame who did or didn’t do anything to stop them. Who failed to recognize the crazy; to see the evil that was brewing.
Though, I’m not sure any of us wants to be the evil-spotter, do we? We’d rather hope for the best. To see the best in people and assume that things are going to be ok. Which is why, when it’s not ok, it changes us.
And that’s where I struggle sometimes. I struggle not with the “how” because I think that is almost impossible to pinpoint. I struggle with the “what now?” Not the big picture “what now?” but the micro “what now?” of my life. This happened, and I experienced it. And what do I do with it?
Does it make you stronger when something like this happens to you, around you? I often like to think so, but I’m not sure I really believe it. I find I almost have to hide my head in the sand when similar events occur or I will get buried in emotions I don’t know how to find my way out of.
So 16 years later, I am here and still affected. What I want to say is that I am stronger, better. More compassionate and kinder. I don’t know if that’s true. I am different, somehow. But I’m still waiting on the “what now?”