santa-barbara-shooting-rampage-8d64b2861e0a7e2eI haven’t said too much about the recent shootings in California.  I didn’t participate in the #YesAllWomen protest on Twitter.  I didn’t start ranting about gun control pro or con.  I just didn’t say much.

I’ve been wondering if I haven’t said anything about the event because there isn’t anything to say.

There is a part of me that feel uncomfortable about that.  Maybe it’s because I want to have something to say to some how understand the tragedy.  Maybe it’s because such an event reminds me of how not in control we are in our lives.  It’s easy to talk about gun control or mental illness to find some answer that makes me look like I care and help us to not face the fact that life is so random at times.

I think a lot of our talking after a tragedy is to make us feel good.  It makes us think that this law or that will solve everything.  It makes us think that we have the answer and if only those stupid politicians would just see the light then all would be well.

Blogger Mark Manson has a fascinating blog post about school shootings and does a good job of researching the motives of the shooters.  The point of his piece is to blow apart some our pet theories and focus on the real issue at hand.  In many cases these potential shooters are hiding in plain sight.  They might even tell others of their plan to kill people which is then interpreted as a joke by others.  They also didn’t just snap and start shooting people.  In many cases, they have been preparing for their event for years.  Some of the shooters exhibited signs of major depression years before the event.  Again, people ignored such signs.  I remember a recent interview with the father of Adam Lanza, the young man who went into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012 and killed 26 teachers and students, that his parents had sought help for Adam for years, all to no avail. Lanza still walked into a school filled with children and opened fire.

Manson summed up how the media, pundits and the common guy have tried to explain this event away:

Like they always do, the media have descended to explain away the madness. And like a Rorschach Test, each outlet had its own pet cause primed and ready to be read into the situation.


Manson likens shooters like Elliot Rodger as terrorists, but unlike how we respond to terrorism at our local airport, we don’t recognize the danger around us:

When we think of terrorists, we think of some alien “other” — the bearded, turbaned man hiding in some cave on the other side of the world. Because he’s so distant and different, we let him eat at our imagination — he could be anywhere, ready to strike at any moment, hiding in behind every bush, planting a bomb on every bus or plane. We clog our airports and blast warnings through our public buildings for some imagined bogeyman who is never actually present.

By contrast, we fail to spot shooter after shooter because they are so close to us and so much like us. We miss them because they are our neighbors, our classmates, our friends or even our family members. They are right in front of our noses and we ignore them for a whole host of trivial reasons. Maybe they’re too weird, or awkward, or they’re a loser. We don’t want to talk to them. We put our blinders on and pretend that they’re not miserable, we pretend that they didn’t just have that awkward outburst, we pretend they didn’t just make a joke about killing their own parents.

Manson wonders what would have happened if someone, anyone had really cared.  Would tragedy have been averted?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  But maybe Manson’s point is that the people we see on the street, the ones we might call “losers” are waging a battle that we choose not to see.

There have been a number of essays on private suffering that offer some pretty pointed tips on how to talk with someone dealing with suffering.  Offering an easy answer or trying to see the sunny side of a tragedy is met with contempt with many of these writers.  Okay, but then why don’t we say the same thing when someone thing happens in public? Why do we rush to offer answers that may not even have anything to do with the shooting?  Just because the event happens thousands of miles away that doesn’t mean you can just run your mouth.

Three years ago, just after the shooting of former Representative Gabriel Giffords, I wrote about the need to say something about this horrific event.  What I wrote then is somewhat similar to what I am saying now:

People are trying hard to find a way to pin a villian, usually a villian that people already don’t like.  It makes this horror easier to understand to our anxious hearts.  But I think the awesome reality is that we don’t understand what is going on.  We want to, but  we don’t.  There is no easy answer to this situation.

And that scares us.  Because if there is no easy answer, then it means that life can be random, that sometimes things happen for no discernable reason.  We want there to be an easy reason for endangering the life of a public servant and for killing a nine-year-old whose only crime was going to this event to learn more about government.

There is no real way to make sense of this tragedy and I wish others would stop trying to do so.

What I wish we would do is what Daniel Hernandez did.  Hernandez is an intern at Giffords’ office and after the Congresswoman was shot on Saturday, he stayed by her side and applied bandages to her wounds.  Many people think he might have saved her life.

Instead of pontificating and seeking easy answers, I think we need to simply stand by the side of the hurting.  As blogger Michael Kruse says, we need to be able to grieve and comfort those who mourn.


Sometimes evil happens- even if we have passed all the gun control measures; even if we allow people carry concealed weapons, even if we make it easier to commit the mentally ill.  Sometimes you just can’t explain away evil; sometimes it just happens.

When that happens, sometimes what is needed is a simple prayer for those affected.  Sometimes we need to hear about the God who suffered and has nail-scarred hands.

Sometimes in the face of the unspeakable we should just remain silent in prayer; trusting that God is present with all of us.



One thought on “Unspeakable

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  1. Elliott left a 137+ page “manifesto.” If you read it you will find he was prescribed medicine for schizophrenia, a very dangerous mental illness where people often have no connection with reality.

    His doctor had to know and why didn’t he test him to see if he took the medicines (he didn’t, that is in the manifesto). His parents gave him a BMW, first class tickets to London, etc. What they didn’t do soon enough is get him in a hospital and have him take medicines to get him back a little closer to reality.

    That is the real tragedy. Lots of people knew about him, including his parents, and just apparently didn’t care enough to do what was needed.

    I started to read you post critically, then found I agree with a fair amount of what you said.



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