Michael Johnston: Love in the face of hate
On Friday, 4 million Coloradans went to work and played football in their front yard; strangers opened doors for each other; and 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 this killer, 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 a person like the killer, spending too much of 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 one movie seat away.
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.
Yet America’s awesome strength to fight is overwhelmed by its irrepressible strength to love. The killer took 12 lives Friday. Love saved 58 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 hundreds of other people who walked out of the Aurora movie theater unhurt. 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.
Love guided the 4 million other Coloradans who went to bed peacefully Friday night, and who woke up this morning committed to loving each other a little deeper.
The awe of that night is not that a man full of hate can take 12 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 texted 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 afraid to leave home. They thought they would hunker down in their home and wonder, “How do we fight back?”
The answer is we love back. We deepen our commitments to all the unnumbered acts of kindness that make America an unrendable fabric. 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 the killer settles into a jail cell, wondering what we will do to fight back, we will love back. We will go to a park and play soccer, we will go to the playground and restaurants and movie theaters of our city 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.
In a movie theater 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 Theater 9 on that terrible summer night in 2012. And, inexplicably, with an armful 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.”
We’ve already won.
Michael Johnston is a Democratic state senator from northeast Denver.
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This past Friday, members of the city’s housing steering committee met with consultants to discuss findings from the commissioned housing assessment to potentially move forward with an action plan.