Monday, July 23, 2012

Lighting the Dark Night

I'm not sure I know what to say about the tragedy in Aurora, but I also know I don't want to stay silent on the matter. There's just so much upsetting about it that I don't know where to begin.

I teach my writing students that when they are attempting the horror genre, the best thing they can do is find a situation that should be safe and comforting and make it the source of the horror. That's why we fear what's in the closet or under the bed. That's our bedroom, our sanctuary, and you're making it the source of fear. It creeps us out. The same goes for creepy children, clowns, or a murderous mother.

Well, what's more comforting than buying a large popcorn, dowsing it with movie theater butter, and watching the third installment of your favorite super hero movie with friends and family? The thought that even a public space set up for entertainment and release from our problems could be that dangerous really freaks us out.

That's almost certainly the reason for the desire we have to blame everyone we can pick out as an easy target. It's much more palatable to point to this institution or that legislation when things like this happen than to admit that we live in a dangerous world and these things happen. At least if there's someone to point your finger at, you can be sure you aren't blaming yourself. At least you can pretend it's all somehow logical, somehow makes sense.

Some are targeting gun laws, which may have made a difference in the amount of carnage, but who is to say the suspect wouldn't have found another way--bombs, chemicals, or even illegally obtained firearms. Some are targeting violent movies, but most of us have watched our share of super hero movies and have never harmed a soul. I just watched Star Wars Episode III last night, and I have no desire to go all Anakin Skywalker on a school of younglings. Some of the articles I've read even sound strangely skeptical about the University of Colorado where the suspect was a PhD candidate.

But you can't blame the schools on this one. This wasn't some homeless castoff that the system failed. He was a straight A student who excelled in high school and at the University of California, Riverside, and was attending an intensive PhD program with 34 other students. He had friends. He had a church. He wasn't a freak in a cave.

It's almost certain that it will come out that this man was mentally ill. Like the Greyhound cannibal a few years ago, he was probably schizophrenic and had no idea what he was really doing to people and families in that theater, all around Colorado, and all around the world. The Greyhound cannibal is on medication now and going on supervised trips into the city. People are protesting and upset. They can't imagine that someone who did something so newsworthy and horrific is now just a normal guy with the help of time and medication.

The same could happen with the Aurora shooter. The truth is there are very few individuals, if any at all, that do something using logical thought that can be considered pure evil. Either they are mentally ill or they think what they are doing is the right thing to do, or both. Even Hitler believed he was saving the world, not destroying it. As misguided as people can be sometimes, they usually aren't hell-bent on evil. There's a chance that one person asking this shooter if something was wrong, or noticing that something was wrong at all prompting him or her to even ask, could have prevented a tragedy. Or maybe not. Life's not that simple.

So what do we do with this information? How do we live in a world where a top student in a PhD program guns down innocent movie-goers on a fun summer night out? How do we live in a world where innocent Greyhound passengers can be stabbed to death and cannibalized in their sleep? How do we live in a world of 9/11 terrorists, Oklahoma City Bombers, and Son of Sam killers?

I think the first part of the answer to those questions is simply to realize we live in that world. To realize we've always lived in that world. We like to think there were some good old days, and I've discussed this before on this blog, but I'd like someone to tell me when they were. In the eighties, we were pumped so full of good touch/bad touch lessons and fear of kidnappers that decapitated and raped kids that most of the people my age can actually remember their code word they were to give strangers who claimed to be picking them up for their parents. The sixties and seventies were ripe with glamorized serial killers. Brutal killing only increases as you go back through time. Think Vlad the Impaler, the murderer released to the people instead of Jesus, or Elizabeth Bathory, the Hungarian Blood Countess of the 16th century who allegedly bathed in the blood of her victims way back then.

Once we except that nobody is to blame. Once we realize that life has always been dangerous and the one thing we are guaranteed is death, we can accept the inevitable truth that our lives are the most fragile possessions we have...and the most precious. Yet living in fear and trying to protect those lives by living in crippling fear just devalues them. Like an antique vase that you pack away for no one to see, there is very little value in a life merely based on existing and not living.

So in the end, in my opinion, we just need to live our lives. Mourn the victims, of course. Look for justice for those families, of course. But looking to blame isn't going to help. Unless you find a way to cure humanity of itself, these kinds of incidents are going to happen. Be open to the idea that the murderer might just be a victim in his own right--plagued by his own mind--that needs help not death. If not, if he was simply a cold-blooded, evil-doer, then punish him to the full extent of the law.

Look out for each other. If something seems off, ask if everything's okay. If something seems way off, ask how you can help. Care. But most of all, remember that we're not promised anything in this world, not even tomorrow.

Realize that every moment with friends and family could be the last. Make the most out of life because you don't know when it's going to end. It may sound cliche, but that's because the same dangers we think modern society should be immune from, or that some think are a creation of our modern society, have been lurking for as long as man has walked this Earth. Cane killed Abel. The first born child on Earth was a cold-blooded killer. We have to come to grips with that.

While we should never get used to this kind of thing, I would hope that we could learn from it. Go see Batman if you were planning on it anyway. Don't live in fear. Instead, live each moment of your life to the fullest and love and care for your fellow man. Don't let this rip us apart--there's enough of that going on today in our politics--but do your part to help it bring us together. Don't let this one man--whether he was evil or ill--make our lives into one, long, dark night.

"Not Promised Tomorrow" by Stuck Mojo


  1. Bill,
    I love what you said and how you said it. You have a gift with words. I too have issue with those who use tragic incidents such as these for their political purpose or cause. The one person to blame for this incident is the shooter. I do differ, however, on the frequency of evil in the world, probably because of my career in which I've seen plenty of it. I don't know enough about the man to label him evil, and I’m definitely not inclined to give him the mental illness pass. Nevertheless, there is no doubt the act he perpetrated was pure evil.

    1. I'm trying really hard to live life with uncompromising and unconditional compassion for all. But times like these do make it difficult. But I have to admit I don't know enough about the man either. But I'll try to understand as best I can. What they're now reporting is he was rejected by several woman on an online dating site in the days or weeks leading up to the shootings. It's amazing how big a difference love can make in our lives. I'm not saying those woman should have loved him, or even that a lack of love was why he went and did this, but I do know that people who have true love in their lives and feel deep connections to other human beings don't do these things.