Confronting Columbine

So, this year I’m doing the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge and was compelled to read “a book in a genre you usually avoid.”

I wanted to go ahead and knock this category out, knowing that it might fall off the list as my enthusiasm waxed and waned throughout the year. (Plus, who wants to read a book they probably won’t like at Christmas? Best get that out of the way now, I say.)

And, so, I went outside my comfort zone and checked out Columbine by David Cullen from the library.


In order to get through this book, I had to employ my “chaser” method. I’d read a few chapters and, once I felt sufficiently disturbed, I’d read At Home in Mitford. And, at night, fuhgettaboutit. I couldn’t read Columbine at all. (Thank you, Father Tim, for getting me through!)

Despite my desperate desire to abandon this book, I persevered to the bitter end.


Well, I’m not entirely sure.

I suppose I’m the sort of person who hates to give up on books – even ones that distress me. I’m also the sort of person who doesn’t like giving up on a challenge – even ones that distress me.

But,  I also felt like I was learning… even if I didn’t particularly like what I was learning, it was knowledge nonetheless. And, maybe someday, it would be knowledge I would need to know.

( Aside: To me, knowledge is kinda like that practical item that you stock up on when you find it on sale at the store. It’s not particularly exciting to buy your weight in toilet paper, but I’d rather get it while it’s cheap than have to learn its value the hard & costly & possibly embarrassing way!)

So, what did I learn…

Well, a lot.

But, maybe most importantly I learned how difficult it is for our society, myself included, to acknowledge the reality of evil. We justify things until its reduced down to something we can cognitively accept. We over-analyze things until we can almost sympathize with anyone and anything. Perhaps this is a good thing most of the time. Empathy. Compassion. Introspection. Hope. Forgiveness. These are not bad things! But, sometimes, it’s a huge mistake to underestimate what humans are capable of doing.

For so long, I believed that Columbine was wrought at the hands of two victims, oppressed by systematic bullying, who snapped in a moment of madness. That idea was false. I probably believed that they were both afflicted by mental illness… depression or schizophrenia… or who knows… something biologically beyond their control that collided with a furious anger and erupted in a gruesome way. That idea was also false… to a degree.

Columbine occurred because there is evil in the world. It may be scary to confront that, but shutting our eyes and sticking our fingers in our ears doesn’t make it go away.

Certainly, there were several factors that contributed to this truly horrific massacre and many we can never, ever understand. But, I believe that the bottom line is that Columbine happened because two very angry, sadistic individuals in an act of absolute hatred chose to view human life as disposable.

I believe they each had their own unique issues that propelled them to that fateful day. And, I believe that their plan wasn’t thwarted, despite the many clues they left and the dozens of opportunities friends, peers, coworkers, teachers, administrators, parents, police officers and more had to intervene, simply because no one wants to believe this level of violence and malice exists in this world. I don’t blame them. I don’t want to think about that either.

This book made me deal with those uncomfortable realities.

I don’t believe this level of malevolence is common. I don’t believe the world is a bad place, filled with bad people. But, ignoring the outliers just because they don’t fit with what we want to believe about the world has proven to be catastrophic.

Some things can’t be prevented. It’s scary to accept that. We can’t control everything. We can’t stop everything. Despite all the education, awareness, lawmaking, prevention in the world, this can happen. This did happen.

But, that won’t stop me from praying that it won’t.

My heart aches for the victims of Columbine. For the parents. For the parents of the murderers. For the community. And, for anyone who’s had to directly face this sort of evil.

(PS – I noticed after writing this that I never said the murderers names. I don’t know why that’s hard for me, even in my private discussions of the book with friends and family. Maybe it’s like a Voldemort phenomenon. Or, maybe it’s just that I’m too appalled to give them any credit. I’m not sure. But, there it is.)

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