I heard about the Aurora theater shootings the morning after in my minister's office in Frisco. I was receiving counseling of the pre-marital variety. Really, we were just drinking coffee and chatting as friends.
The news struck me pretty hard, but I tried to put it out of my mind because family and friends had flown in from all over; we were having a wedding on Sunday and then headed directly to St. Thomas afterward
That worked pretty well for a couple of days. We were out and about getting to know one another's families better, laughing and celebrating a happy occasion with the people we love. It wasn't until Sunday morning that I allowed myself to feel the collective shock, terror and sadness.
But we went on with the weekend, had a lovely time and caught a plane to paradise.
Our connecting flight left from Atlanta, where we had a three-hour layover. My wife is very engaging. She will strike up a conversation with anyone and, pretty soon, they're exchanging life stories.
I'm content to sit with my nose in a book for hours at a time without looking up or speaking to anyone unless they speak to me first. After all, the next psychotic gunman is out there somewhere and might be the guy who wants to know what time it is.
Inevitably, these conversations with couples, travelers, business people, soldiers and families on vacation would turn to where we were from. We'd say "Colorado" and they would bring up the shootings and/or the fires.
It occurred to me, after listening to dozens of people express their condolences and sympathetic horror, that Colorado is a place that lives very large in the minds of people around the world.
Colorado represents different things to different people, but there was a common thread running through the comments I heard.
Above any other state in the West, Colorado epitomizes the beauty of nature, rugged mountains, swift mountain streams and dry, deserted places filled with red rocks and cactus, ponderosa pines and bighorn sheep. It's our natural mystique.
Perhaps that is why the state motto is "Nothing without Providence."
There is also a great affinity toward our state's people. Almost everyone we talked to knew somebody here, which would account for the diversity of our residents. If you're not from here originally, then you did something of which many people back home are jealous. You did it. You struck out, alone or with someone and went to live in a somewhat wild place.
And it's that spirit in a person that people reflect on when they hear "Colorado." When people arrive here they say they love it because the people are different. I always ask "different how?"
Answers vary, but mostly it's that the people here are more laid back, open and friendly than wherever they came from. I would add adventurous, humbled by beauty and accepting of people from outside the state. Perhaps that's because so many of us left the natural allegiances of family behind, tribes still have to be formed, we still need to fit in and to do that is to welcome a stranger with an open hand and a smile.
Not once did I hear someone hint at a soiled reputation for the Centennial State. The comments were universally sympathetic and positive. They mourned with us in our tragedy and lamented the loss of homes and forestland.
Yes, we have our problems. We can be better, and we will. After all, that's what people expect of us. And that's why we didn't mind leaving the beautiful tropical island paradise to come home to our very own Rocky Mountains paradise.
Jeff McAbee is a former Summit County resident now living on the Front Range. Contact him at email@example.com or via Twitter @Jeff_McAbee.