Today is April 20, a day to which I have never really attached much significance, but this year it feels like it should be significant in at least one of three ways.
The easiest grab would be that 4/20 is the biggest day of the Marijuana Calendar. Apparently — and here I’m falling back on folklore and not the reliability of an internet search — “4-20” is police-speak for a marijuana bust. And so for many, many years, tokers have made April 20 the day to rally for their cause.
Here in Colorado, the marijuana crowd realized its victory a few years ago at the ballot box, and you would think that might render a 4/20 celebration moot. But you would think wrong. In fact, in Gunnison today is “Cannival,” a celebration of All Things Marijuana, With Music.
But I won’t be going. I know no one believed Bill Clinton when he asserted that while he had smoked pot, he “never inhaled,” so I don’t expect people to believe me when I tell them I have never ingested marijuana of any sort, other than as second-hand smoke. (I’m not actually suggesting you need to believe Bill Clinton, because I don’t. I’m not even suggesting you need to believe me, but I’m not — yet — running for the presidency. By this time next year everybody in the United States might be on the campaign trail.)
I think marijuana should be legalized and regulated, but it’s not an issue I lose any sleep over. [That could be another topic: might THC and/or CBD aid my sleep apnea? We’ll tuck that away for another day.]
So it’s 4/20. Nothing to see here; let’s move on.
This year, by dint of the calendar, April 20 is also the day between Good Friday and Easter. Which also doesn’t mean much to me, but I don’t want to offend anyone else’s beliefs, so it seems like a topic to tread very, very lightly on. If at all.
I would just like to say, I wanted to go see someone at his place of work on Thursday, and in doing so passed by a sign that said his office would be closed for Good Friday, which I thought was a little weird, but okay. And then it turned out, without any sign for assistance, that he was also closed on Thursday. Maundy Thursday, right? It must be a bigger week than I realized for this particular individual.
And then there’s the April 20 connotation I never gave any thought to, although I perhaps should have for many years. Twenty years ago today, two students went into their school, Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and laid waste to it, leaving behind 13 dead as well as themselves.
(Now, if I thought religion was a fraught topic, guns, gun violence, guns in schools . . . what am I thinking, even starting down this path? It isn’t my intention to go that way, although it may be hard to avoid.)
Columbine is all around me, and yet I have managed to go 20 years without much thought about it. As a commemorative date, I hadn’t given it any more thought than I give to marijuana festivals.
Shortly after this school shooting, Gunnison established a plaque in our downtown park (which I think is still there, although I can’t guarantee it) with the names of the 13 dead victims. (I do often think that we give short shrift to the other victims, those who get shot but survive. And then there are of course those who are mentally traumatized.) In my days as an adjunct lecturer in English, one of my students had been a student at Columbine during the shooting. A Western Then State quarterback went on to become Columbine’s football coach (I believe he’s still there). A Gunnison High School administrator became Columbine’s athletic director.
But, while always aware of it, I have not given Columbine much of my attention. This year, however, on the eve of the 20th anniversary, the national media has ramped up its coverage, causing me to focus more on it.
I had no idea that there is a subculture of people who fetishize the shooters — until one of them got on a plane last Monday and made her way to Colorado, where she purchased a shotgun and then went running naked through the woods until she shot herself. (And, more ominously, scared so many people that 500,000 students missed a day of school with a vague yet “credible” threat.)
I should have assumed, but didn’t, that Columbine and the Jefferson County Schools dedicate an entire cadre of people and technology to trying to keep their students safe. People show up in busload quantities to gape at the school, and I had no notion of this.
Of the dozens of books written about this incident, I have read only one, by Sue Klebold, mother of one of the shooters. A Mother’s Reckoning is her attempt to explain to herself and the rest of us how her son came to this act of horrendous violence, and how she and everyone else around him missed every sign he might have given. (Although signs were well-hidden: after the FBI read the other boy’s diary, they went back to his bedroom, which they had already searched thoroughly, and found yet another gun.)
I found it to be a thought-provoking read, if not a little disturbing that she expresses relief that her son was not the “psychopath”: that was the other boy, and hers just followed along, sheeplike. (Her distinction, apparently made by professional analysts: the one boy went to the school to kill others and didn’t care if he died; her son went to die and didn’t care if he killed others.)
CBS offers this weird periodic segment called “Note to Self,” although this week’s edition, featuring three people directly impacted by the Columbine shooting, was extremely moving. It turns out that Tom Mauser, who lost his 15-year-old son Daniel, literally walks in his son’s shoes as he carries on his crusade to stamp out gun violence. (I don’t seem able to post it like Youtube videos, but you can watch it here.)
So today is April 20 and you — or at least I — have a variety of ways to acknowledge it, except that I don’t know that any of them hold a huge significance for me. Maybe they should, but they really don’t, and it might just be easiest to say: today is Saturday, and I think I’ll make the most of it in a manner that suits me.