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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Not Only Names, But the People They Were**

The Columbine Memorial

*Chicago Tribune
July 15, 2011
as "A fitting memorial"

*Somerset Daily American
July 16, 2011
as "A fitting memorial to lives taken too soon"

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

The sky was overcast as I came slowly up the sidewalk.  The wind was gusting out of the northwest, a cold and bitter presence reminding me of my thoughtlessness in not bringing a coat to Colorado on this grim-looking day in May.   Enduring the frigid winds, I turned onto a wide path, the head of which was decorated with a low stone wall and a simple sign:  “Columbine Memorial.”

April 20, 1999 was a cool, cloudy morning in Littleton, Colorado.   At Columbine High School, students arrived for a normal school day.  But at 11:19, just as the first shift of students began gathering in the cafeteria, shots rang out.  Over the next 45 minutes, two students, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris walked through the school, taunting and then shooting fellow students, some at point-blank range.  In terror, most fled the school, while others hid under desks.  The two shooters fired 176 times, saving the last two rounds for themselves.  In their wake, 12 students and a teacher were dead. 24 more were wounded.
The shock of this terrible tragedy was felt well beyond the boundaries of this middle-class community.  The entire country was in mourning.
It’s been 12 years since that day, a day that fundamentally changed schools forever. 
A broad walkway takes you into the memorial between two low stone walls, opening into a circle.  To the left is a wall with six openings through which pour a steady stream of water.  Straight ahead, three stone and marble arcs mark the center of the memorial.  At my feet is a large inlaid ribbon, and the words, “Never Forget.” 
On raised sheets of granite are engraved individual memorials to the 13 who were lost that day, written by the parents and families.  It is through those words that those thirteen cease to become names to be read, and become people to be remembered.
Steven Curnow loved to fly.  When their airliner hit a bad patch of turbulence, leaving a planeload of white knuckles and weak stomachs., Steven exclaimed, “Wow!  That was cool!  Let’s do it again!  Corey DePooter could make a whole room roar with laughter.  He loved the outdoors and wanted to be a Marine Corps officer.  For Isaiah Emon Shoels, the love of God was first in his life and “…was taught to love others no matter how they treated him.”
In an excerpt from Lauren Townsend’s diary, she wrote richly of her faith, ending with “I am not afraid of death, for it is only a transition.  For in the end, all there is, is love.”
Kelly Ann Fleming had written a poem that started out,
“I step outside, what did I hear?  I heard the whispers and the cries of the people’s fears.”  It ends with the haunting words, “I saw a light and asked myself can that be?  When I was turning to walk away, I heard a voice.”
I read about Daniel Mauser’s gentle spirit and shy grin, and his inquisitive nature that “…would challenge you to examine your assumptions about most everything.  We are asked to remember teacher Dave Sanders “…for how he lived; and not how he died.”
Daniel Lee Rohrbough’s beautiful blue eyes and infectious laugh.  John Tomlin’s gentle disposition that made him an old-fashioned gentleman on dates.  Cassie Rene Bernall’s life of faith. 
Rachel Joy Scott had declared, “I won’t be labeled as average.”
Kyle Albert Velazquez struggled with learning disabilities, but still taught others about the power of unconditional love.  Matthew Kechter loved the outdoors and “…possessed such profound empathy for someone so young.” 
Along the wall of the memorial are quotes from teachers, students and parents: 
 “I no longer take anything for granted.” 
“People talk about defining moments in their lives, but I didn’t let this define me.” 
“It brought the nation to its knees, but now that we’ve gotten back up, how have things changed?  What have we learned?” 
“I hope people come here to this place to think about how they themselves can be better people rather than come here to reflect on death.” 
Visiting the Columbine Memorial was a profound experience.  Walking within that circle and reading the words that are there, brought home to me that in a memorial, remembering names and dates isn’t enough.  We must always remember the richness of the lives that were lost.
And how much poorer the world is without them.
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