I woke up, hit the snooze twice, and then grabbed my computer. After checking email, reading on Facebook how awesome the Dark Knight Rises was, I scanned tweets from East Coast folks who had been awake for a while. And then I promptly got out of bed, walked into my kitchen, and ate a cookie.
It was the only thing I could think of to do.
When I went to bed last night, life was good. My play-writing meeting went really well. I then quickly made cookies for a barbeque today while watching a Thanksgiving episode of The West Wing, the one where President Bartlett calls the Butterball hotline.
When I went to bed, life was good. When I woke up, it was very sad.
I couldn’t shake the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach all day, no matter how many cookies I ate. I kept reading new stories: how the gunman’s apartment is booby-trapped, how he called himself the Joker, how people thought it was a publicity stunt until people started dying.
I couldn’t pin-point why I was grieving so much for people I didn’t know. At my desk, I swung wildly from near tears to guilt because I don’t cry over massacres in Palestine or Egypt, then to apathy because it’s not only easier but also safer. Cynicism makes me feel like I am winning in a world spinning wildly out of control.
Finally it hit me. Why I don’t cry when bombs go off at nightclubs or during riots. It’s because I’ve never been in a riot. I don’t know what it feels like to be cowering from a mob of angry, screaming people. And I’ve never been in a nightclub, as I’ve found I feel anxious in dark, enclosed, loud spaces. I find them inherently dangerous.
I can’t place myself in those situations. I’ve seen pictures of them, and they bruise my heart. Any loss of life is a wound to us all.
But I can place myself in a movie theater.
A movie theatre is a place I go. A place I learn about myself and the world. A place where I engage with stories, both individually in the quiet dark and communally surrounded by people. It is a safe place.
I’ve even been to my fair share of midnight showings, recently with some friends for The Hunger Games. Midnight showings are for teenagers and those who don’t have to work at 8am on Friday morning, but we went anyway. There’s a sense of camaraderie, community you feel with strangers at these showings, waiting for hours to be the first to see long-awaited stories and characters come to life.
Netflix has changed the world. Everything is at our fingertips, a few clicks away. But movie theatres are one of the last stalwarts of communal experiences.
We all fear, a little bit, deep down, flying in airplanes when there’s turbulence and maybe driving when the weather is bad. Maybe tunnels are a little scary, and very tall buildings. If we stop and think about it, life is scary. Unpredictable. Uncontrollable.
And now dark movie theatre? Do I need to add this to my list of fears? Because of one deranged individual? I’ve never thought that I’m a target, sitting in a seat staring straight ahead, eyes seeing only the story. All of us, facing the same direction. Nowhere to go.
In an episode of The West Wing I just watched, Toby just said that it’s “these things, the everyday american things, the 99 cent things that when you suddenly have to be afraid of them strike at the very center of our equilibrium.” He was talking about hamburgers, but I think movie theaters count. When the normal things scare us, we become off-kilter.
When I walked with purpose and grief into the kitchen to eat a cookie at 6:45am, I walked past my bathroom mirror. Just a few days ago, recovering from a bout with extreme procrastination, I wrote on the mirror: You’re not guaranteed a tomorrow–what will you do with today?
I didn’t even look at it until this evening, when I bowed my head and cried.
Twelve people won’t get a tomorrow because a gunman shot them while they watched the premiere of the new Batman movie in a movie theater in Colorado.
We live in a violent world. We live in a crazy, messed-up, broken-down world. The blackness is trying to steal what little joys we have. It is trying to make us afraid of those around us and avoid new experiences.
Tonight, I don’t have any answers for any of the madness of the world. I hold onto my faith in a love bigger than I can understand and a world beyond that will not pain me. I grieve the senseless loss of twelve beautiful people who walked into the dark to feel a story and did not walk out, because someone took their own stories into his deadly hands.
But I do one more thing: I tell myself that I am not guaranteed a tomorrow. None of us are in this bloody world. Armed with that knowledge, and reminded in the most terrible way, what will I do today?
I’ve been gifted one more day, and there are thousands of people all over this world who were not. And you were gifted it as well. 24 hours, or maybe just the next hour, or probably just the next breath, if you’re lucky. What are you going to do with it?
Do something beautiful, for them. And eat a cookie.