‘Anything we can do to help’…


From little acorns mighty oaks do grow.




Just a week before, a motorcycle rally from Littleton to Bailey to benefit victims of the terrifying assault that occurred Sep. 27, 2006, at Platte Canyon High School was just a hopeful posting on a high-country electronic message board. By Saturday, it was a thundering ribbon of steel connecting mountain and plain and two disparate communities forever united by loss.

The horrific attack on Platte Canyon High School that ended with the murder of 16-year-old Emily Keyes left the small mountain town of Bailey reeling. Like many of his neighbors, Bailey resident Dan Patino felt angry, heartbroken and desperate to do something – anything – to assist the victims and their families. Because fresh air and distance help him think, Patino got on his motorcycle and took a long ride, at the end of which he went online.

IMG_0755“I was surfing Pine-Cam when I saw Dan’s post,” said Donna Sue DeLisle of Woodside. “He needed people to help him pull together a benefit ride from Columbine High School to Platte Canyon, and I wrote back that I’ve done food drives for the fire department and I’ve been pretty good at organizing things. Then I just jumped in and started helping, then other Pine-Cammers jumped in and started helping, and then we went from the swimming pool to the ocean.”

School authorities high and low immediately promised their unflinching support for the project, DeLisle said, and police and fire departments across the front range quickly followed suit. Word spread through Colorado’s biker community like wildfire DeLisle’s inbox was soon jammed with registration requests. “I answered over 3,000 e-mails in six days,” she said. “We never expected anything like the response we got.”

IMG_0753To participate, bikers were asked to contribute to either the “I Love U Guys” Emily Keyes Memorial Fund at any Citywide bank or the Columbine to Canyon Account at any Bank of the West location, with all receipts going to aid Platte Canyon victims. In exchange for their financial and physical support, small-town hospitality demanded that the guests be rewarded with something solid and restorative on arrival.

“Somebody in Pine Junction offered 2,000 breakfast items, and boy scouts troops from all over said they’d bring hot dogs,” DeLisle said. “And I had every kid in Bailey and their mom baking for all they’re worth.”

IMG_0537By Wednesday, local radio stations had picked up the story and offers of support poured in from around the state. A Pueblo business pledged enough soda pop to quench 4,000 parched throats, an outfit in Lake Wellington promised 1,000 pounds of ice, and one downstream woman with a mobile lunch wagon put up 250 sloppy joes.

“People just started coming out of the woodwork,” said Trina Scherr, the Bailey resident tapped as the event’s catering coordinator. “I got people bringing pizza, burritos, soft pretzels, you name it, and it’s all donated. This whole thing is completely volunteer, so every penny goes to the girls and their families.”

On Saturday morning, riders started arriving at Columbine High School at shortly before 10 o’clock, a trickle that quickly became a flood. By 10:30, the right lane of south-bound Pierce Street was a solid line of rumbling metal waiting to file into the school’s sprawling main parking lot which, by 11:00, had become a continuous sea of chrome and leather and generous spirit.

IMG_0544Pink was Emily’s favorite color, and many bikes flew small pink flags maybe 6 inches square. Carefully and colorfully hand-decorated, each was created by a Columbine student to carry a message of comfort to their grieving counterparts in Park County.

Biding their time next to a gleaming Honda BTX 1800 sporting a flag reading “Random Acts of Kindness,” Bea Green and Daniel Rakes motored down from Evergreen to lend their wheels to the cause. “We heard about this on KHOW and wanted to help out,” Green said, watching with some amazement as the last square feet of blacktop disappeared beneath the fat tires and booted feet of bikers from Cheyenne to Santa Fe and every city, town and hamlet in between. “Emily’s family – all those families – deserve our support. We believe in the Emily fund and everything it stands for.”

IMG_0571H-hour for the Columbine to Canyon Ride – or “Emily’s Parade,” as many preferred to call it – was high noon, by which time nearly every parking space at the high school and in the entire eastern half of adjacent Clement Park was packed fork-to-fender with shiny roadware and eager riders. Words of thanks were spoken; balloons released; a favorite song of Emily’s played. Then, led by Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener, an estimated 5,000 Harleys, Hondas and assorted custom choppers roared to life and formed a solid column, two abreast, headed west.

The afternoon’s good purpose aside, Saturday was a splendid day for a spin up Highway 285. Dressed in autumn gold, aspen and cottonwoods stood out in brilliant contrast to the dark pines covering both sides of Turkey Creek Canyon, and unseasonably warm temperatures prompted many riders to shed their heavier gear.

IMG_0628Beyond Conifer, the rally passed small groups of people seated in folding chairs on the shoulder and whole families standing in the backs of pickup trucks festooned with pink ribbons. Young and old, they were stationed along the highway to greet the bikers, and every one held a sign that said, in one way or another, thanks for coming. South of Pine Junction, pink ribbons fluttered from virtually every sign, post and rail along the route and, at the bottom of Crow Hill, residents of Bailey formed a waving, cheering line along the town’s short main street. Just in case someone in the long line of bikes felt inadequately welcomed, busy hands had transformed Platte Canyon High School into a perfect pink storm of balloons, ribbons and gratitude.

IMG_0598Platte Canyon is half the size of Columbine, with commensurate parking, so hundreds of bikes wound up arrayed around the school’s northern sporting field, putting those drivers in excellent position relative to the fantastic chow line assembled there. For an impromptu kitchen that was still adding menu items and staff as the first riders were cruising past Shaffer’s Crossing, the outdoor smorgasbord was a delicious testament to Bailey’s picnic know-how.

“We never expected anything like this,” DeLisle said. “It’s a miracle anything came together at all. Practically the whole community is volunteering to make this happen, and that says a lot about this town and these people.”

IMG_0703Near the end of the 30-yard wood-plank serving counter, Bailey volunteer Jenny Little was dishing savory pork ’n’ beans out of an industrial-sized pot. “I don’t have any idea who made them,” smiled Little, one of at least 100 local volunteers who kept the machine running smoothly. “They just gave me a ladle and put me here.”

A few feet away, Castle Rock businessman Guy Shingleton oversaw a huge convocation of propane grills where a half-dozen folks furiously flipped burgers and rolled frankfurters. “I’m a scout master, so I just brought up all of our cooking equipment to help them out,” he explained. “I also brought 2,500 hot dogs, but I don’t know where we got the 3,000 hamburger patties.” Not that he seemed inclined to care, busy as he was loading empty plates as they passed by.

IMG_0678“I can’t believe how the people in Bailey opened their hearts to welcome us,” said Pete Perez, standing in line with an empty plate and sampling the swift-approaching food-line with his nose. A Centennial resident, Perez didn’t drive his flaming yellow Yamaha V-Star trike all the way to Bailey for grub. “I wanted to show them that we’re all together in this – that they’re not alone.”

How many motorcycles is 5,000? The last bike rolled out of Columbine at 12:58. The head of the column entered Platte Canyon’s green valley at 1:02. For a long moment, that afternoon, an unbroken chain of growling metal and genuine empathy connected the two schools across 40 miles of mountain and forest, binding them together in common sorrow and shared hope. It will be days before the event’s final receipts are known, but the Columbine to Canyon Ride could easily realize tens of thousands of dollars that will do much to heal the wounds of Sept. 27.

“Ain’t no amount of money can replace what these people lost,” observed Mike Bevard, an Elizabeth resident who fully appreciated the importance of Emily’s Parade. “But anything we can do to help them, we’ll do.”



A Little Perspective, Please

Here we go.

Another shooting spree, another media melee, another 15 minutes for anybody with a pet cause to promote.

I don’t expect any better from the media. Senseless tragedy is good business for the yakking classes. With the whole nation watching, they get to ordain heroes, condemn villains, and indulge in the kind of self-serving histrionics that would be roundly condemned as bias under less sensational circumstances.

And I’ve come to accept that packs of opportunistic jackals will always be lurking outside the newsroom, hungry for a chance to feast upon the misfortunes of others and twist violence and heartbreak to their own purposes. On Friday, with news reports from Newtown still confused and largely news-free, the Usual Suspects were already standing tall atop their soapboxes demanding more gun control, or less gun control, or increased spending on schools, or increased funding for mental health initiatives, or, incredibly, the imposition of a mandatory national program of cradle-to-grave psychological profiling designed to detect mass-murderers before they go off the rails. While all of those topics may individually contain some particle of merit (except, perhaps, the last one), hoisting them up on the backs of slaughtered innocents not yet cold is simply unconscionable.

Sadly, exploiting tragedy has been a favored tactic of the ruthless at least since the year 1002, when King Ethelred II, unable to control the sporadic Viking raids plaguing England’s coasts and tired of hearing his subjects whine about it, ordered the murder of every Dane within his realm. The “Saint Brice’s Day Massacre”, as it became known, did nothing to dissuade the Viking raiders, but had a pronounced calming affect upon Ethelred’s domestic critics. As luck would have it, Denmark’s ruler grieved for about two minutes before using that abuse of his countrymen as justification to invade England and sieze Ethelred’s throne.

But if hijacking another’s misery in pursuit of personal ends enjoys a long and ignoble history, it may be that the Modern Era’s fascination with Social Media has plunged that abhorrent practice to new lows of thoughtless self-indulgence. I’m talking about what, for lack of a better name, I’ve come to think of as the Sympathy Games.

By nightfall on Friday, Dec. 14, Facebook was alive with posts professing infinite, abject, soul-rending horror at the events in Connecticut. The contestants seemed to feed off of each other, as each tortured memoriam begat another of even greater anguish and empathy, a ghoulish competition to see who would wear the crown of Most Compassionate.

“I’m heartbroken. It seems like a bad dream.”

“I cried last night. I can’t even believe what I’m reading.”

“I feel physically sick. I can’t stop crying.” 

“I’m totally devastated. I feel like I lost one of my own children.”

“I already called in sick to work tomorrow. I feel overwhelmed with grief for those children and their families. I’m going to stay home and pray for them.”

 And, of course, about a thousand variations on the theme “I beg you – hug your children. Love them. Just love them.”

Don’t get me wrong. No person of ordinary mental composition could learn of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and not feel strong emotion. I feel anger toward the craven worm who took whatever beef he had with his mother/associates/society and turned it against a bunch of 6-year-olds who, almost by definition, were incapable of committing any injustice against him. I feel a deep sympathy toward the slain children and their families – lives senselessly cut short, and other lives forever blighted. And I feel a weary frustration that there’s little a free and open society can do to prevent pathetic mongrels like Adam Lanza from exploiting a generally trusting public to murderous purpose.

On the other hand, reason and nature prevent reasonable people from becoming unnaturally affected by events outside their own lives. A massacre of innocents is a terrible thing, but the world conjures a dozen terrible things on every day of the week. Where is the out-sized outpouring of despair when a ferry accident in Asia kills hundreds? Or a mudslide in South America kills thousands?

Is Newtown somehow worse because most of the victims were children? This week in America some 130 children will die in car accidents. Another 20 will drown, 10 more will die of burns, and 25 will suffocate. Those are grim statistics, but ones that we’ve come to terms with, because the alternative would be mental and social paralysis. And affectations of “shock” over mass killings in the supposed “safe haven” of school ring hollow against the 10 that have occurred in Canada, the 19 in Europe, the 12 in Asia and the Middle East, and the 13 that have taken place in the U.S. during the last decade alone.

It is simply not in the human mental apparatus to become emotionally incapacitated by tragedies that have absolutely no direct impact on our own lives. We care, yes, but we carry on.

So how to explain the agonizing flood of commiseration that jumped Twitter’s banks last Friday and is only now beginning to subside? I list the probable causes here in acending order of offensiveness.

Hysteria: I recognize that some people are just too close to the surface. You know the ones I mean. They throw things at the TV when the Broncos turn one over. They think every song on the radio is speaking directly to their heart. They hyperventilate at birth announcements, sob uncontrollably at a third-cousin’s wedding, and take every word, gesture and expression that comes their way as a personal judgment. These people can be forgiven their emotive excesses, as they are, themselves, victims of their own unstable psychological geology.

Schadenfreude: I certainly don’t mean to suggest that all of those rabid posters actually take pleasure in the deaths of children, but I am absolutely certain they love feeling bad about it. There exists a well-established human desire to associate oneself with events percieved as great, or important, or, in this case, dramatic. Fact is, lots of people take pleasure in inserting themselves into the triumphs and tragedies of others. It’s that impulse that drives people to hold a candle at vigils for people to whom they have no connection, or to buy a commemorative Royal Wedding plate, or to vote on American Idol. Apparently not satisfied with the tame spectacle of their own lives, they borrow the drama of strangers. Since Friday, their game has been to insert themselves into the Newtown narrative and claim for themselves a supporting role as aggreived spirit, albeit one at a comfortable distance. By being so very shaken and shattered by the killings, they become co-victims deserving of both sympathy for their sufferings and admiration for their strength. It’s a shabby form of recreation of which they should be ashamed.

Self-aggrandizement: This is the Sympathy Games at their most despicable. I care more than you do. You are sad, I am bereft. You prayed last night, I skipped work to pray all day. You hug your children because you suddenly understand how precious they are, I beg everyone else to hug theirs because my love of children is unselfish and all-encompassing. And heaven forbid anyone should think I’m not caring enough.It’s a contest of compassion, self-indulgent boast-fest, and everybody wins so long as nobody catches you cutting fresh powder at Copper Mountain when you’re supposed to be at home praying. It’s exploitation of another’s misfortune for personal gain, and if it’s less public than stumping for a high-capacity magazine ban on Today’s Weekend Edition, it’s no less contemptible.

We are weak creatures, and vain, and naturally thoughtless. In their hearts, most of the people falling all over themselves to appear heartbroken almost certainly believe they are expressing the appropriate emotional response to a horrific crime, and that it’s a true – if somewhat robustly-stated – reflection of their true feelings. I would like to believe that they are all perfectly sincere in their majestic grief, but I don’t. I’m too old, and have seen too much to believe that. To those for whom the Sandy Hook tragedy has become a temporary entertainment, I say “stop it.”

The Connecticut slaughter was, and is, an outrage against decency, and a crime against our shared humanity. Hate it all you like, and then hate it some more. But don’t own it.

As much as you’d like it to be, Sandy Hook is not your tragedy. You have no right to be “devasted” or “overwhelmed”, because your circle is intact. You are not brave because bad news is not the same thing as adversity. You have earned neither sympathy nor admiration because you’ve lost nothing worthy of pity, nor done anything worthy of praise.

Be sad. Be angry. Recommit your life to good works. Hug your children, but please don’t feel obligated to inform me in advance. By all means pray, but not to everybody on Facebook, but to a loving God who will gather the murdered innocents unto Himself.

The massacre in Newtown is the worst kind of tragedy, and it’s not about you. It belongs solely and wholly to the children and teachers who died there, and to the people who loved them.

Then and now, we are not all Columbine.