Early this morning, something awful happened. We all woke up to the that occured during midnight screenings of the Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. And when something bad happens in the news, it is our first instinct—as parents and even just people—to want to retract and withdraw. To wrap ourselves, our family and our friends in bubble wrap in hopes that none of life’s darker moments cast their shadow on the people we love.
This morning, I read that New York theaters are adding extra security for screenings of The Dark Knight Rises in all five boroughs. And there was a part of me that liked the idea of this protection. Even if it never would extend to me—three time zones and 2,800 miles away.
But the other larger part inside of me couldn't help but ask, "What’s next?” How far do we have to go to protect ourselves? What are necessary precautions? And what aren’t? We don’t want to have to look over our shoulders every time we leave the house. Nor should we.
It is true that we live in a scary, mean world at times. A world in which a young man can walk unnoticed into a crowded theater and open fire on innocent victims. But if we look around, there is more good than bad. As the days progress, I know we will hear about acts of heroism and valiant bravery from this morning. Somehow, the darkest moments of life tend to bring out shining examples of humanity. And I hope that is what we focus on.
I want to know more about the people inside the theater. Their hopes. Their families. Their future dreams. I don’t want to live in a society in which we dwell and give unnecessary glory to one deranged act of terrorism. My heart hurts for all those families and I (along with the entire nation) send them my deepest sorrow and prayers. But the best way we can pay tribute to their lives is to lift our attention to them and not to the cause of this horrible act. And while searching for some glimmer of hope, I found exactly what I was looking for.
According to U.S. News and NBC News, Jessica Ghawi, 24, was one of the victims in the theater last night. Ghawi had recently moved to Denver to peruse her dream of becoming a sports writer. Ironically, she narrowly escaped a mall shooting in Toronto just last month. In her blog (written under the pen name of Jessica Refield), she stated that she was visiting the city last June and stopped by a shopping mall to get something to eat when she got an “odd feeling” in her chest:
“My receipt shows my purchase was made at 6:20 p.m. After that purchase I said I felt funny. It wasn’t the kind of funny you feel after spending money you know you shouldn’t have spent. It was almost a panicky feeling that left my chest feeling like something was missing. A feeling that was overwhelming enough to lead me to head outside in the rain to get fresh air instead of continuing back into the food court to go shopping at SportChek. The gunshots rang out at 6:23. Had I not gone outside, I would’ve been in the midst of gunfire."
She goes on to describe the scene in her blog. But more importantly she shares her reflections about the event.
“I feel like I am overreacting about what I experienced. But I can’t help but be thankful for whatever caused me to make the choices that I made that day. My mind keeps replaying what I saw over in my head. I hope the victims make a full recovery. I wish I could shake this odd feeling from my chest. The feeling that’s reminding me how blessed I am. The same feeling that made me leave the Eaton Center. The feeling that may have potentially saved my life.”
I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders' faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don't know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening.
I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.
Tragically, Jessica is no longer able to peruse her dreams or share her wisdom with us. Her loved ones will most certainly miss her presence in their lives. And yet, we can benefit from what she left behind. I can’t help but wonder at the odd coincidence of surviving one shooting only to be a victim to another shooting in less than a month. She is proof that life is indeed fragile.
And I hope we choose to embrace life and all the good in it. It is worth noting that Jessica has spent the last few weeks of her life working hard to find sport equipment donations for the victims of the recent fires in Colorado. She understood the power of healing. And I believe that she wanted to teach us about the importance of life—through her actions and her words. I like to imagine that the last month of Jessica’s life was filled with all the things she talked about in her blog. Hugs. Family. Laughter. Charity. Evenings with friends. Solitude. Finding our dreams. And, most importantly of all, finding the good in all of the bad. I wish that for her family and all the other families suffering a loss today.