Living through Columbine was a learning experience

By By Liz Carlston

By Liz Carlston

Much has been said about today’s 10-year anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colo. Gun control extremists are using the date to stage rallies, entertainment companies are debunking myths about video games that allegedly are to blame for extraordinary violence and Columbine survivors will mark the day in a profound way.

I was in my trigonometry class at Columbine on April 20, 1999. I was just a junior, and my varsity basketball team had just completed our first winning season in 12 years. I was excited for the prospects of my senior year. That morning, shots rang out and I escaped from the school with my classmates at the prompting of a strobe-lighted fire alarm. At the end of the day, 25 people lay wounded in hospital beds and 15 others were dead, including my basketball coach.

By no means was it easy to recover from Columbine. The barrage of media attention, celebrity visits, classmate suicides, therapy focus groups and sad glances from strangers made the world seem so foreign and cold. The assumption that “this kind of stuff doesn’t happen to kids” was no longer true.

Gerda Weissmann-Klein, a Holocaust survivor, came to our school shortly after the shootings to share her experiences. Hearing about how her brother was killed during the war and her parents were sent to Auschwitz invited us to relate to her words. Hearing that she was able to recover and create a happy life for herself, despite the horrible atrocity committed by the Nazis, gave us hope. Knowing someone had made it through a much more difficult time than Columbine helped us know that we could make it through, too.
Now, 10 years later, I look back at Columbine as a day of learning and a day when exceptional individuals rose to the occasion to help their neighbors and comfort their friends. Columbine clearly demonstrates that you can be happy despite the crap that happens in life. We choose how to feel and how to react to different situations. In fact, many of my high school friends have looked forward to the anniversary as a day to celebrate life and friendship. Some are even throwing parties to recognize how far they have come8212;with time, they no longer feel captive to the anxiety and fear that shattered their innocent view of the world. They are picking up the pieces and making a new reality.

At some point during your life, you will have a Columbine moment8212;a moment when your view of the world changes forever. Although these times are never easy, you can fully count on the guarantee that someone has been through something worse. It will be a time when you’ll learn life-changing lessons that will make you better and you’ll emerge a stronger person. You will be more empathetic and patient, more compassionate and loving, and more full of hope and joy. No matter what happens to us during life’s journey, it all turns out right in the end. It truly will be OK.

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Liz Carlston