Yesterday, four million Coloradans went to work and played football in their front yard; strangers opened doors for each other; people gave blood, offered shelter, served hot meals, held grandkids, played pick-up basketball and committed unnumbered acts of kindness and gentleness. One Coloradan dressed up like a villain and believed that by showing up at the site of America’s mythical hero he could slay our actual heroes.
It’s true there was no Batman sitting in the theater to fly down and tackle James Holmes, as he hoped there might be. He had tactical assault gear covering his whole body, ready for America to fight back.
But love is more organized than that. Love has cellphones and ambulances, nurses and doctors, complete strangers and policemen and emergency responders always at the ready. Love has nurses who will jump out of bed in the middle of the night and get family members to watch their children so they can rush to the hospital and save the life of someone they’ve never met. Love has first responders who will walk into a booby-trapped building to save the lives of neighbors they will never meet.
It must be lonely being James Holmes, spending the first part of your life planning alone for an act that will leave you sitting alone for the rest of your life. For the rest of us, life is crowded. Love is always only three numbers and one movie seat away.
We have lived our country’s history as a chapter of wars, and many of those wars we have been blessed to win. We are a team that loves each other and will fight for each other, and if you punch us in the mouth, we will fight back.
That is one of our obvious strengths, but it is not our greatest strength. America’s awesome strength to fight is overwhelmed by its irrepressible strength to love. James Holmes took twelve lives last night. Love saved fifty-nine lives. Policemen on the scene in minutes, strangers carrying strangers, nurses and doctors activated all over the city.
But we didn’t stop there. Love saved the 700 other people who walked out of the Aurora movie theater unhurt.
But we didn’t stop there. Love saved the 5,000 who went to see Batman all over Colorado, and the 1.2 million who saw it all over the country, who walked in and out safely with their friends, arm in arm.
But we didn’t stop there. Love claimed the four million other Coloradans who went to bed peacefully last night, ad who woke up this morning committed to loving each other a little deeper.
The awe of last night is not that a man full of hate can take twelve people’s lives; it is that a nation full of love can save 300 million lives every day.
I sat this morning wondering what I could do to help: give blood, support victims, raise money, stop violence. How could we start to fight back?
My friends were texting me that they had plans to take their kids to Batman tonight but were now afraid to go. Others who were going to play pick-up basketball or go out to dinner were now afraid to leave home. They thought they would bunker down in their home and wonder, “How do we fight back?”
The answer is we love back. We live back. We deepen our commitments to all the unnumbered acts of kindness that make America an unrendable fabric. We respond by showing that we will play harder, and longer. We will serve more meals, play more games, eat more food, listen to more jazz, go to more movies, give more hugs, and say more “thank yous” and “I love yous” than ever before.
So while James Holmes settles into the cell where he will spend the rest of his life, wondering what we will do to fight back, we will love back. We will go to a park this afternoon and play soccer, we will go to the playground and restaurants and movie theaters of our city all weekend and all year.
He should know not only that he failed in his demented attempt to be the villain, but that Batman didn’t have to leap off the screen to stop him, because we had a far more organized and powerful force than any superhero could ever have. Even the twelve lives that he took, this nation will love so strongly and so deeply that we will ensure they get a lifetime full of love out of a life he tried to cut short.
And the fifty-nine lives we took back will be so overrun with love that they will live their lives feeling blessed every day, and everyone who ever meets them will pass on in an instant a love they never knew they earned but we will never let them forget.
In a movie theatre in Aurora 50 years from now, one of last night’s survivors will be waiting in the popcorn line and mention that he was in Theatre 9 on that terrible summer night in 2012. And inexplicably, with an arm full of popcorn, a total stranger will reach out and give that old man a huge hug and say, “I’m so glad you made it.”
Love back. We’ve already won.
See Mike’s comments on 9News about “loving back” after the Aurora tragedy:
Sign-up for email updates from Mike Johnston: click here to join our list.