Our morning began in full swing with a passionate debate about the raising of the minimum wage. As a working teenage, it was fascinating to learn about the perspectives on the issue, as I discovered why the minimum wage exists, and what states actually abide by the standard set by the federal government. It was particularly embarrassing to hear that, although the federal law set the minimum wage at $7.25 an hour in 2009, my home state, Georgia, maintains a minimum wage of $5.15 an hour. I feel as though this law can potentially prevent workers from living sustainable, stable, or productive lives.
Following the discussion, we checked out of our hotel in Aurora, Colorado and visited the Columbine Memorial in Littleton, Colorado. Being only 16, I had not been alive long enough to remember when the shooting occurred, making these past couple of days my first real time experiencing the issue. The memorial was an architectural masterpiece, composed of two different circles, and was built in a park on a hill overlooking the school. The outer circle was characterized by a myriad quotes from parents, teachers, faculty and others about the shooting. I was comforted to realize that each of the quotes, though stated by different people, were all united by the pricelessness of life, praising the lives of these children rather than condemning people to live mournful lives for the rest of their time on earth.
One quote from a parent read: “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.” Being the passionate Jewish student that I am, my brain automatically went between this quote and the mourner’s kaddish – the Jewish prayer of grievance. This quote, so expressive about the value of life, embodies the message of the mourner’s kaddish, which never once mentions death. Rather, it urges people to remember their loved ones as they were on earth as it praises the beauty and pricelessness of life. This is what the Columbine memorial, in my opinion, aimed to do.
The inner circle of the memorial housed thirteen plaques, each dedicated to an individual victim of the shooting. Reading these messages was extremely humbling, for in them I saw my siblings, friends, and even myself in the descriptions of each child. This realization brought me to tears. One student said that “…the definition of normal changed that day.” Experiencing a tragedy like that truly does alter one’s definition of normal. These were children! They were dreaming about their futures, playing sports, working towards college. They were children, killed by a gun, shot out of pure, unyielding hatred. They were children, and they were innocent! We must not stand in the outer circle watching as these tragedies occur, because, one day, those could be our names, or the names of loved ones, resting in that inner circle. One sticker on the bus reads “reality is when it happens to you.” I believe Etgar 36 is now ready to ensure that it does not.
After an enjoyable lunch at Sweet Tomatoes, we trekked onwards to Boulder, Colorado. Our first stop was on the campus of Naropa University, a small, private, liberal arts school, founded upon Buddhist teachings. I fell in love! It was amazing! Upon arrival, we spent time with Amy Atkins, a conservative Jew from Chattanooga, Tennessee, who channels her faith through nature. A former employee of Naropa, she began her presentation by explaining the essence of what the university is and what it strives for. Afterwards, she led us through the meditative process, which was a fascinating experience and a perfect preparation for our proceeding activity, yoga.
Lara Barber and her mother led us through a yoga session which helped us to better understand the philosophies of yoga and the culture of Boulder. Having only done yoga once or twice before, I am astounded to say that it felt like coming home. I felt fully in control of my body and, for once in my life, I was able to recognize the connection between nature and faith, spirituality and peacefulness. I had the opportunity to speak with Lara and her mother afterwards, which left me in awe of their lifestyle.
I left Naropa feeling as if I was in heaven. This state of excitement only furthered my anticipation for our evening activities – strolling through Pearl Street in downtown Boulder and a nighttime movie. We all had so much fun exploring the local culture, and I believe that everyone, regardless of whether or not they were connected with the individualistic liberal ideas that characterized our time in Boulder, was able to appreciate the uniqueness of the town.
Afterwards, it was time to prepare for our long overnight voyage to Salt Lake City. I felt as though this day, and this journey, are only the beginning of the individual enlightenment that will continue for the rest of our lives.