Tragedies like the one that happened here in my back yard in Colorado remind us just how fragile we are. How precious life is. How it can all come to a terrifying halt, amidst a sea of bullets and a cloud of tear gas.
The initial shock of the massacre in an Aurora, CO movie theater has passed, and the media has shifted its attention to the killer. (whom I will refrain from naming here, and I wish others would do the same) It makes me angry. Attention inspires copy cats and facilitates the notoriety he seeks – not to mention glorifying mass killing. It’s devastating for loved ones of victims to see his face all over the television. There are so many reasons that paying this individual no attention would seem to be the best thing to do.
But I understand why the lens is now focused on this man – who he was, the people he knew, his favorite things, his Match.com profile. Ultimately, we all just want to understand why, why, why…
Sometimes we answer our own question, and come to misleading conclusions.
On Meet the Press this morning, I watched Governor John Hickenlooper describe the shooter as a “demon”. I’ve fallen into this trap before, early in my career – still raw, angry and emotional after Shannon’s murder. I lacked more accurate terms for people I could not begin to understand. I called her killer a monster. After all, it’s easier for us to think of these assailants as non-human, to save us the horror of realizing they aren’t so different from you and me.
Take pause before casting violent people off the island of humanity. That is the exact moment we resign to ever understand their path and actions, forfeiting a valuable lesson in predicting future violence.
Why did this man commit such a horrific act? Perhaps the answer is too complicated for us to understand, or too simplistically human for us to accept. Maybe it’s because he was a deranged individual with visions and beliefs not of this world. Or maybe he just wanted someone to know his name. We may never know.
So what do we do now? How do we move forward?
We cope by devising practical plans that blend preparedness and hope. Accept the risks of being alive, and equip yourself with survival skills. Lock your doors, then say bedtime prayers. Control what you can, surrender the rest.
Fred Rogers (yeah, the guy with the awesome sneakers and grandpa sweater) offered a suggestion for upsetting times like these:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
So how do we live in a (sometimes) violent world? I suggest keeping it simple. Do good. Seek peace. Kick ass. Have fun. Hug your kids. Chase your dreams. Support lemonade stands. Smile at butterflies. Pay your taxes. Be a good person. Gaze at the moon. Go to the movies. And when things get scary, look for the helpers.
BE a helper.
Whatever you do, don’t choose fear. Don’t quit living while you’re still alive.
That’s when the bad guys win.