Sunday, July 22, 2012

Super power.

I went to see The Dark Knight Rises Saturday night. It was less than two days after the horrific Aurora, Colorado massacre. Of course it felt like much more time had passed, like it always does after these things. Tragedy happens and shatters something solid, and we find it hard to believe that only hours separate the world we have now, the world where a movie theater is associated with mass death and savage violence, from the world we had then, a better world for not having known such horror.

There were police officers at the theater, and a poor 16 year old kid "checked" my bag as I filed into the theater, a kid who had obviously no idea how to do a security screening in a world of popcorn and Milk Duds. During the previews and at the beginning of the movie, it was impossible not to think about the shooting, about how the people who were killed or injured that night were in the same place we were in, a place of entertainment and good memories, waiting for a superhero movie to start on a summer night. It was impossible not to try to imagine the unimaginable, about how scared they must have been. It was hard to just be at a movie, the way being at movie felt three days ago.

And I know that will lessen. We won't forget, because these events are indelible, seared into collective memory. We won't forget those who died, because they deserve our remembrance. But life continues. We continue. We keep going to movies, just like we kept going to college, just like we kept flying on planes.

We continue. And in the past after these shootings I've gotten on here and written about gun control, about the mental health system. I've been angry, and I've ranted and I've lectured. And of course I've done that now, had debates and discussions with friends, like so many of us probably have, tried to parse through the facts to make some kind of sense or explanation from the basest horror.

But more than anything I simply feel tired and sad. I don't need to get on a soap box and say that something is broken, because we know that. It's felt different this time, after this shooting. I feel like there's a collective sense of exhaustion, a lack of denial or excuses. We know something is wrong. We're so tired of the ordinary, good places in our lives being turned into crime scenes. We're tired of trying to find answers when so often there simply aren't any, only deeper and deeper questions, all of those endless why's and how's.

I'm tired, and I don't want to fight or argue. There's so little we have control of, and we'll make ourselves sick trying to control the world. I take comfort in the knowledge, in the certainty, that I do have absolute control over one thing, myself and my actions. I kept thinking during the movie, and this is no new idea on my part, of how it was so ironic that this horrible thing happened during a Batman movie, a story, like all superhero stories, founded on the desperate, utterly human dream of there being a heroic figure in our world who can save us from the darkest evil. The world seems to grow scarier all the time, and that only fuels this childlike wish, this urgent need to have a savior, a magical being who can be our weapon against hate and terrorism and senseless, stupid violence.

But that figure only exists in movies. In the light of day we all know that. And that thought, on the surface, can seem so hopeless and cruel. But it's not. My hope, my comfort, lies in the knowledge that I have power to affect the world, not to fly around in a costume and a Batmobile, not to stop mass violence with some well times comic book "oofs" and "pows."

We don't have super powers, but each of us have choices, and that may not seem like anything, but it's absolutely everything. We may not be able to change the world in dramatic, broad strokes, to save a bus full of children or an entire city, but every single day, we are faced with hundreds of choices that matter, that mean something.

These things happen and I cry and I ask why, like everyone else. But then I take a deep breath and remember what I can do. I can be good and kind and decent. I can say no to anger and negativity and hate. I can choose to be generous, to take that extra moment for a stranger, that little moment for me that might mean a world of difference for someone who is fighting an inner battle. You hear a lot of noise about people saying that if only someone in that theater had a gun, they could have stopped the killer.

But I think about the million interactions that man had in the days and months and even years leading up to his choice. I'm not naive enough to think that one smile or kind word or humane interaction could have changed a clearly damaged and troubled mind. But what about hundreds of humane interactions, what about a world where even the darkest mind finds kindness from others and willingness to help.

I fail so often at these tiny choices. We all do. I fail when I yell at someone in my car or give attitude to the rude waitress. I fail when I see someone in pain or in need and do nothing to help. I have one tool at my disposal to fight this overwhelming horror that we see so impossibly often, and there's nothing super about it. It's human in every sense of the word, and that's why it's precious. That's why it's worth believing in more than any fictional character. When the lights come up and Batman recedes into imagination, we aren't powerless and we aren't left alone with nothing to protect us. We have ourselves and our choices, and the ability, every single day, to be heroic, to fix this broken world.

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