By PRISCILLA DANN-COURTNEY
Monday, March 22 was a normal day until it wasn’t. The aisles of our local King Soopers lined with food suddenly became stocked with blood and horror as panicked shoppers ran for safety. Individuals receiving their vaccine faced shots of a different kind. Emails and texts circulated on the outside as we all checked in with family and loved ones to be reassured they were okay. We thought about those whose calls were unanswered, vibrating in pockets of the dead and injured. We knew that since our town is small, we likely would know a victim, or would have a friend who knew someone, or worked with someone related to a victim. Suddenly someone would no longer become “someone” but one we were all close to. And then even thinking, that could have been me. It was only the next morning that the names of the victims were released, the death toll of ten ringing in our ears – feeling the heartbreak for so many families.
My mother used to call it “going marketing.” And now innocence is lost amidst our fruits and vegetables. How will we go into any grocery store without it being contaminated by this tragedy? And no disinfectant spray will wipe it off the carts. For many, food shopping was a simple pleasure that brought comfort and even social connection during the pandemic – that simplicity is now lost. As with 9/11 when the smoke lingered in the air for months, the air will remain heavy for weeks to come. There were accounts of shoppers terrified as they experienced what felt like a war zone but in the cereal aisle. Because of live streaming many watched the rampage unfold, up close to the deadly chaos. No one was protected or had filters against the truth. Boulder, Colorado was repeated over and over by national and international newscasters drawing attention to the saddened soul of our collective community. Our name is now tarnished adding to the list of Atlanta, Columbine, Aurora, Parkland, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas – the list so painfully long.
I write this at a time so soon after the devastation, that individually and collectively we are still shaking from the shock and horror. But we are not alone in the trauma, instead together in our grief. It feels harsh to transfer to a discussion of statistics but nevertheless important. Studies show close to 95 percent of people who have been exposed to mass shootings experience the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder which may include, high anxiety, fear, nightmares, insomnia, hypervigilance, anger, sadness, and depression. We have all felt less safe “out there” due to the pandemic and inevitably our fears will intensify by adding gun violence so close to home. And often these acts of violence evoke earlier tragedies that we still carry from our past. These reactions are normal, yet may we never normalize repeated rampage, no matter how frequent. Our nation has been traumatized by gun violence, yet how many of us have thought, “but not in our town.” And how now to cope, manage, heal when yes it is our town.
Prevention is primary but in the hours and days after tragedy, we have to focus on the “checking in, checking up, and checking often,” on others and ourselves. It is sharing and voicing our grief, anger, fears, and sadness that we can find solace. Community compassion is salve for deep wounds. They say that any place we feel heard and listened to becomes a holy place. We have to find those places now whether in person or from the safety of our living rooms. Our connections may have to be through phone and Internet, but those connections are vital, however few and distant they may be. Family, friends, religious organizations, meditation groups, yoga communities, and professionals are all avenues of support. Often shame holds us back from seeking that support. But there is no hierarchy to loss and pain. No matter how close or distant we are to the victims, we are all victims just by bearing witness.
As Passover nears, may we celebrate liberation from these violent atrocities that imprison us, so we may instead live in the beauty of a more connected and safer world. Please join me in lighting a candle for hope.
Priscilla Dann-Courtney is a writer and psychologist who has lived in Boulder for over 40 years.