Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Positively Columbine

Words define and so do moments. Columbine is an example of both.

Robi and I just came from the tenth anniversary community-wide remembrance event. It was itself a powerful moment filled with powerful words. Words have enormous power to create.

It made me think about how the meaning of a very familiar word can change. “Apple,” for example, brings to mind images of computers these days as much as it does fruit. “Tight” now means cool, and cool used to mean chilly. Sometimes a word’s new meaning can be the opposite of what it used to be, like the words “bad” and “sick.” There are plenty of others.

Ten years ago, the word columbine conjured images of flowers that decorate the Rocky Mountains and this region. It is the State flower of Colorado. They are beautiful and colorful. They are hearty enough to make it through hard cold winters to bloom again with all their vibrancy each Spring.

Ten years ago the meaning of columbine changed with a moment. For most of us, the beautiful noun became a shocking adjective and verb, used in ways no one could have imagined. It became synonymous with the worst of school violence and the tragedy of evil. In a day, the new meaning of columbine took hold across the country and around the world. “Columbine-like” no longer meant flowers. It was part of the tragedy.

Ten years ago we lived in Ohio. Like most in our country, I watched in disbelief and from a distance as media carried stories from Columbine High School nestled in the Columbine community within the city of Littleton. In the days that followed, the meaning of columbine was redefined. It was easy, from a distance, to accept the new meaning.

Two and a half years ago we moved to Littleton, around the corner from Columbine High School and the community it’s nestled in. What I have discovered is a High School and community not defined by the tragedy ten years ago, but the triumphs they have experienced since. It is a rare tight-knit active community with a shared resolve unlike any community I have seen. Like the flower, it is a beautiful and colorful community. Together, they have discovered they are hearty enough to make it through a hard cold winter and bloom all the more with familiar vibrancy. I don’t mean this in some trite esoteric way. It is true in the daily reality of how they choose to live and relate.

For me, Columbine used to stand for school violence and evil. That was when I lived at a distance. That was when I allowed its meaning to be changed by people (media) who didn’t live there and didn’t know better. No longer. It’s just not true. On the contrary. The truth is this community represents vibrancy, kindness, blessing and resolve. For me, “Columbine-like” does not mean evil, but good. It is not devastation; it is restoration. It is not despair; it is hope. It is not victims, but victors. It is not powerless, but a community of determined resolve. It is not defined by one act of senseless violence, but countless acts of intentional kindness. It is not death, but resurrection.

I challenge all who read this to no longer define Columbine by a tragic event, nor to describe a tragic event by the name of Columbine. It’s just not true.

It’s time to change the meaning of a familiar word to reflect its true essence. What if Columbine, like the flower and the community, meant beauty, kindness, regeneration and resolve? What if we call it “columbine” when neighbors gather around a family to see them through a difficult time? (I have seen that happen in Columbine neighborhoods.) What if a marriage is renewed or “columbined” through the encouragement of family and friends? What if it is called “so columbine” when volunteer teams gather in New Orleans to rebuild homes of people they have never met after Hurricane Katrina? What if a painting is described as “columbine” when a variety of colors or materials are brought together to create something beautiful? The possibilities are endless, but the essence is the same. It is positively Columbine.

Words have enormous power to create. Words define and so do moments. Columbine is an example of both.

What do you think? Please click "Comments" 6 to leave yours.


Phylis Ritscher said...

Wayne - very well said and very true. To me the students of Columbine have led the way forward for the rest of us with their strength and not letting the past define, or rather confine them. They are the living example of God's redemptive work.

wcdarbonne said...

Hi Wayne. This is a beautiful description of the reality in the Columbine neighborhood/community. I think the only way the connotation of "columbine" can be changed is for the stories to get out of the neighborhood and into the world. The response of the of the people in Littleton to evil is an inspiration for those who know about it and should be communicated as it is relevant to everyone. Thanks for initiating this process (at least for me).

jim. said...


johnfellows said...

Wayne -- I love your fresh perspective on Columbine and indeed the good Columbine stories need to be told and retold.

The realist in me says that changing the color of a word, especially when it is part of the lexicon of the media, is a tall order. Haven't known you to shy away from worthy causes, however.