Bullets from nowhere. And everywhere. The lottery of Murder. Terror. Heroism. Shock, anger, grief. Waves of mind-numbing, delusional conspiracy theories. The Right and The Left vying for who can tune a perfect timbre of righteous indignation in blaming the other. Candles. Vigils. Moments of silence. Helplessness.
I went to bed on Sunday, October 1st at 9 o’clock. I slept through the text from my eldest son, a Las Vegas police officer, that said, simply, “Active shooter at Mandalay Bay. I love you, Papa.”
The younger brother woke me at 10:30, his face a rictus of fear. He, too, received a cryptic text. And so we sat, staring incredulously at our television, waiting. At 1:15 a.m., my phone went beep. “I’m alive so far,” is all it said.
When I finally got my arms around Officer Kalas on Wednesday night, neither of us wanted to let go.
“How are you, Steven?”
“Well, nobody I love has any bullets in them. It’s a good day.”
I am writing on Thursday, Oct. 5th. Like so many of colleagues, I have spent the last 3 days bounced around Las Vegas for Critical Incident Debriefing, which is to say holding space for people to talk, to weep, to rage and rave. To try to shape the beginnings of something sane and normal in the wake of a world gone mad.
It’s moving, even holy to be with a human being who is confronted with what he/she 1) doesn’t understand, 2) cannot explain and 3) cannot control. Like, when we fall in love. Or, like, when we are beset by evil. Neither the human brain nor the human psyche manages well when these three conditions converge.
And, what does the human ego do when met with these conditions? Well, to put it crudely, the human ego begins to make sh*t up. Post hoc ergo propter hoc. Now I can explain it. Therefore, now I can understand it. And because I can explain it and understand it, I can control it.
I have, at once, compassion and pity for this ego-staple in the human condition. I understand it. I can explain it. Hell, I’ve done it. Thou Shalt Not Spiritually, Emotionally or Intellectually Tolerate Mystery.
See, evil is, in the end, a mystery. Beyond us. Way bigger than us. The best theories paired with the best laws wrapped in the most faithful due diligence cannot guarantee our safety and security from evil.
All week I’ve been listening – patiently, compassionately, mercifully – to people explain. And not just the folks personally traumatized, sitting in front of me. But also to radio personalities. Television personalities. Journalists. And politicians.
The explanations don’t explain. You see that, right?
Mental health, drugs/alcohol, evil religion, evil politics, wife left me, just got fired, financial problems, abused as a child, government mind control, awaiting sentencing for prison, public humiliation, bullied at school, PTSD, a doctor says I have terminal cancer, boredom …
The explanations don’t explain. Even if/when the explanations are true. Lots of people endure one or more of the above afflictions and don’t decide to kill random strangers.
Speaking of politicians …
You did a good job in Las Vegas yesterday. You seemed like a grown up. A grown up speaking from his heart. You didn’t belittle anyone. You didn’t divide us. You didn’t make the situation about yourself. I was surprised, relieved and grateful. Thank you.
Please do more of this.
This is not over. Spree killing is a sociocultural pathology unique to our time. And, while not unique to the United States, certainly particular. Especially pervasive. While occasioned by guns it is not caused by guns. Its genesis is something so dark, so despairing and disconnected. But, while I’ve heard a few clinical/sociological explanations that intrigue me (SEE The Myth of Redemptive Violence, Walter Wink), in the end, I can’t explain it. I just know that I don’t want to despair and disconnect.
I want to teach beneficence. Hope. Community and relationship. This is all I know to do. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.” (Isaiah 40:1)
“Is everyone you love safe and sound,” I ask the clerk at 7-11. Her eyes filled with tears. She nodded, humbly, “Yes.”
“Is everyone you love safe and sound,” I asked the guy next to me at the bar. His eyes fell. Barely perceptible shake of the head. “No.”
I placed my hand on his shoulder.
When I take my family to the beach, I look at the warning flags and signs alerting me to riptides, jellyfish, and amorous dolphins. I notice the proximity of lifeguard platforms. If necessary, I mentally locate the rising voice of a drunk or a mentally ill vagrant. Somewhere in my brain, I remember that sharks live out there and, on infinitesimally rare occasions, will bite you in half.
After that, I enjoy my family, the water, and the sun. I relax.
It seems so twisted, so utterly wrong that now, to my list of ordinary due diligence, there might someday be a sign on the beach saying “In the Event of a Spree Shooter ….”
(Steven Kalas is a therapist, author, and Episcopal priest. He writes a weekly column for the Sparks Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)