published Friday, July 27th, 2012

Leber: The Aurora shootings and one time to not speak your mind

As more information has become available about the victims of the horrific shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater last week, three men who died are being touted as romantic heroes of a sort.

According to various reports, Jonathan Blunk, 26, a father of two small children, died protecting girlfriend Jansen Young. Alex Teves, 24, pushed Amanda Lindgren out of the line of fire. And Matt McQuinn, 27, covered girlfriend Samantha Yowler, who took a bullet to the knee. (Reports indicate that Yowler's brother, Nick, also used his body to protect his sister.)

One Wall Street Journal editor has ticked off a lot of people. On Tuesday evening, James Taranto, a Wall Street Journal columnist and editor of the WSJ's editorial page, Opinion Journal.com, tweeted the following: "I hope the girls whose boyfriends died to save them were worthy of the sacrifice."

Upon reading that, I clapped my hand to my forehead. I imagine some of you did the same.

The young men in question, either by instinct or by choice, threw their bodies on top of these girls to save their lives. Clearly, they believed the young women in question were worthy of the sacrifice.

And you know who gets to decide that? The guys who died protecting them. Not you. Not me. Not some opinions editor from the Wall Street Journal. Not the Twitterverse. If you take a bullet for someone, I believe it was up to you and you alone to determine if the sacrifice was worthwhile. The decision, most likely, will be a split-second reflex.

"No one knows how they would react in this kind of situation," a friend said.

I can't speak from experience, thank God, but I imagine that when bullets are flying there isn't a lot of time to weigh the pros and cons of your reflexes.

Indeed, one might hope that a person whose life has been spared by the sacrifice of another person might live his or her life in a way that honors the gift she was given. However, to say "I hope they were worthy of the sacrifice" seems to imply that we'll be watching to make sure.

After Taranto's tweet was met with unfavorable responses, such as "you sir are disgusting" and "worthy is irrelevant, loved is relevant," he attempted to explain himself with an article titled "Heroes of Aurora, a mea culpa for an errant tweet."

"In instinctively making the ultimate sacrifice, each of these men proved the depth of his devotion," Taranto writes. "... These three women owe their lives to their men. ... The closest they can come to redeeming it is to use the gift of their survival, well, to live good, full, happy lives."

It goes without saying that we hope these girls, and all the survivors, will live full, happy lives.

This is one of those times when the appropriate thing is to not speak your mind. When you publicly throw down that challenge of "I hope she's worthy," it's just stepping where you don't belong.

"This tweet was insensitive, and I hope writers/editors give extra thought to declarative statements -- all public statements, even when they are on social media. They certainly should ...," my friend said.

Taranto has every right, under the First Amendment, to say exactly what he said. But that doesn't mean he should have. Despite all the outlets available to us for expressing our innermost thoughts to the masses, there are plenty of instances in which silence is still golden. And even more in which a moment's pause before pressing a "post" button is priceless.

Maybe Jansen Young, Samantha Yowler and Amanda Lindgren will go on to live rich, full, giving lives. Maybe they'll each change the world a little bit. Maybe they will live better, will live for Jonathan Blunk, Matt McQuinn and Alex Teves, who are no longer here, except in the memories of those who loved them and in the esteem of those who have come to admire their sacrifice in the wake of Aurora.

But maybe they won't. And while that would be unfortunate, I know I won't be watching, eagle-eyed, to see whether these young women will prove themselves worthy of the gift each of them was given. They were already declared so by the men who saved them. How they choose to live their lives from here on out is up to them.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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