Columbine Memorial Address
delivered Sunday, 25 April, 1999, Columbine, CO
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[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio.]1
Nothing that I say to you can bring comfort. Nothing that anyone else can say can bring comfort. But there is a voice that speaks without words and addresses us in the depths of our being. And that voice says to our troubled souls: "Peace, be still."2 The Scripture promises that there is a "peace [of God]" that "passes [all] understanding."3
I would be misleading you if I said I understand this. I don't. Why human beings do evil, I do not understand. Why bad things happen to good people, I do not understand. Like every one of you, at such a time as this, I go on my knees and ask, "Why, Oh Lord, Why?" I do know this: At such a time we need each other.
To the families of all those who died here, I say: You are not alone. The heart of America aches with yours. We hold your agony in the center of our prayers. The entire nation is a community of shock, of love, and of grief. May you feel the embrace of the literally hundreds of millions who weep with you."Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."4
And our thoughts are with the many who bore injury; we hope and pray along with their families that they will be whole again. One of the truths of the human condition is that suffering binds us together. Suffering lays bare our common human need for love, kindness, and grace. In our suffering all of us stand naked before God. And for all of us, the Scripture says, though it may be darkness now, "joy cometh in the morning."5
Here, in Jefferson County, the spring has yielded to a cold winter of the heart. But I am reminded of the words of a sage writer who said: "In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."6
To the world that is watching us, let us remind them that the young killers of Columbine High School do not stand for the spirit of America. America is a good and decent place; and our goodness is a light to all the nations of the world.
We have seen in this community so much of that goodness, so much healing, so much of what is best in our country. You have shown us that even in this ashen moment, there is a spark that lights our way forward.
At Columbine High School last week, this great goodness was expressed in the bravery of the teachers who risked their own lives to protect the lives of their students. These teachers knew their pupils, and loved them as if they were their own children. No one can doubt that. Their love was made not of words; there love was made of acts.
We remember among them coach and teacher Dave Sanders, who bravely led so many to safety -- but never made it out of the building himself. The young, too, were brave. The student [Aaron Hancey] with first aid training who swallowed his fear and went back into that awful, smoke-filled, terror-filled corridor to lead others in a three-hour crusade to try to save his teacher's life. There were countless acts of heroism that saved many lives.
And there was profound heroism among those who died. Among them -- Among them, we remember Cassie Bernall, whose final words, as she stared death in the face, were: "Yes, I do believe in God."
Those who "suffer [persecution] for righteousness' sake" -- "theirs is the kingdom of [Heaven]."7
Now, as we are brought to our knees in the shock of this moment, what say we? What say we into the open muzzle of this tragedy cocked and aimed at our hearts? If our spiritual courage can match the eternal moment, we can make manifest in our lives the truth of the prophesy: "that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory [which] shall be revealed in us."8 All of us must change our lives to honor these children.
More than ever I realize that every one of us is responsible for all the children. There are children today hungering for their parents to become more involved in their schools, and to fill the spiritual void in their lives.
If you are a parent, your children need attention. If you are a grandparent, they need your time. If you do not have children, there are kids who need your example and your presence. Somewhere -- Somewhere in the reach of every adult in this country is a child to hold and teach -- a child to save. We must have the courage not to look away -- in life or in death -- from those who feel despised and rejected, those for whom we are taught: "sin lieth crouching at the door."9
All adults in this nation must take on the challenge of creating in all of God's children "a clean heart," "and [renew] a right spirit within."10 Children look to us. They learn from us. They don't always know when to look away. We must teach them right from wrong. We must protect them from the violence and cruelty in our popular culture. We must teach them why embracing the right values transcends a moment's cheap sensation.
I believe the best antidote to vulgarity and brutality is the power of a better example, of love over indifference. In the words of Henry Drummond, "the [expulsive] power of a higher affection."11 The human heart responds to goodness. I believe this. I wouldn't think life worth living if it were not so. After the death of a loved one, a poetess wrote:
Parents, we can stop the violence and the hate. In a culture rife with violence -- where too many young people place too little value on a human life -- we can rise up and we can say "No more!"
We have seen enough of violence in our schools. We must replace a culture of violence and mayhem with one of values and meaning. It is too easy for a young child to get a gun; and everywhere we look, there are too many lessons in how to use one.
We can do something about that.
We need more discipline and character in our schools, and more alternatives to drugs and crimes.
We can do something about that.
We need to recognize the earliest signs of trouble, and teach our children to resolve their differences with reason and conscience.
We can do something about that.
No society will ever be perfect. But we know the way things should be. And America can be what we are meant to be: a community of goodness, of reason, of moral strength. As the Psalmist prayed, I also prayed: "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."13
If we can work our way as a people to that place -- where caring and compassion open us to the lives of all our children -- then those children who died here will not have died in vain.
And then, in the words of the Prophet [Isaiah]:
o more shall be heard...the sound of weeping and the cry of distress...14 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their children with them.15
And never again shall they "hurt or destroy in all" God's "holy mountain."16
For now, I know only that my heart weeps with you, and with you I yearn that we may come through this dark passage a stronger and more caring people. For I believe, with all my heart, that "Earth has no sorrows that Heaven cannot heal."
1This text was revised, substantially in places, and authenticated via audio on 4 October 2015.
2 Mark: 4:39 (NKJV)
3Philippians: 4:7 (JUB)
5Psalm: 30:5 (KJV)
6Albert Camus, Return to Tipasa
7 Matthew: 5:10 (GNV)
8Romans 8:18 (NKJV)
9Genesis: 4:7 (KJV/MEV)
10 Psalm: 51:10(KJV)
11Attributed, e.g., William James in Varieties of Religious Experience, but unverified as delivered
12Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dirge Without Music
13Psalm: 90:12 (KJV)
15Isaiah: 65:23 (RSV)
16Isaiah: 65:25 (RSV)
Also in this database: Al Gore: 2000 Concession Speech
Audio Source: C-SPAN.org
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