Early this morning, a heavily armed gunman wearing bulletproof body armor and a gas mask went on a shooting spree at the Dark Knight Rises premiere in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 and injuring a total of about 50 people. I don't write in this blog as often as I'd like to, so I'm ordinarily not too quick to talk about the latest big news story, even if it's a big tragic event that happened somewhere in the U.S. But whether it's rational or not, this one really struck a chord with me. Why? Because I attended the midnight premiere of Dark Knight Rises here in Carbondale, Illinois.
I've spent the past couple of hours reading up on the story, watching the news reports, listening to the interviews, reading personal responses, and so on. It's such a bizarre and horrific scenario, and it seems to be touching a lot of people beyond those directly affected. As a highly empathic person, it isn't good for me to spend too long experiencing other people's grief in response to the tragedy. That would inevitably lead to a downward spiral of anxiety and depression. But I wanted to spend at least some time exploring it — both because it's such a terrible act of senseless violence and because I feel a sense of personal connection, however irrational or selfish that may be.
I went to the premiere here in town. If the shooter had lived in Carbondale, Illinois, instead of Colorado, this could have happened to me. I could've been shot, and you could've been reading a message from one of my friends about how I was wounded or killed at the Dark Knight Rises premiere.
First of all, I feel such a terrible sense of sorrow for the losses of everyone who was in that theatre and everyone else affected by this incident. I've never lost anyone to murder, but I've lost important people in my life before, so I know how difficult the grieving process can be when tragedy strikes. These people were brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, friends, neighbors, lovers, and simply human beings. Those relationship ties have been suddenly severed. Anything those people would have brought into the lives of those around them and the world at large has suddenly been lost. My heart goes out to them, and I wish there were something I could do for them.
Second, I can't help but think about what it would have been like if it had happened here. I feel this strange twinge of survivor guilt, like there's no good reason why I managed to make it home safely while the people at another premiere event who did nothing differently than me ended up getting shot. I talked one of my friends into going to the midnight showing, so even though it's completely irrational, I feel like it would've been my fault if anything had happened to my friend. It makes me wonder if there is some poor soul in Colorado right now who is regretting talking their friend or loved one into going. I also really feel a need to stop and reflect on my life and consider what would have been lost if I had bled out on the floor of the local movie theatre last night. How am I spending my time and energy? What am I doing to create a better life for myself and those around me in the all-too-short time I have in this world?
Third, I can't help but wonder what the shooter's motivation was. My friend and fellow author Josh Guess commented in his blog entry about the Dark Knight Rises shooting that he doesn't care what made the guy do it. Maybe that's the right attitude to have; maybe it's best to focus on caring for the survivors and not give undo attention to whatever pet ideologies the killer (or the many pundits analyzing the situation) was trying to advance. There's no justification for what he did, so why bother? But a part of me really wants to understand it. Maybe understanding it will help prevent future incidents; maybe it won't. Regardless, I want to know what was going on in his head — and in his life — that led to this unfortunate outcome.
Of course, tragedies happen every day. The world is full of about 7 billion people. Over a hundred thousand people die every day, some in very tragic circumstances. As we speak, people are starving to death, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, while food gathers dusts on our store shelves and rots in the dumpster out back. As we speak, people are dying in wars, including the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. So maybe it seems ridiculous to some people to notice or care when some guy in some other state randomly shoots a bunch of people in a movie theatre.
But we need to stay human. We need to be living, breathing human beings who are capable of empathizing with our fellow human beings. We need to stop letting the onslaught of bad news wear us down into a callous apathy. Human beings are social creatures, full of great potential for empathy and love and mutual care. Even if we don't always know what to do about it, we need to remember how to feel empathy for people who die in random shooting sprees, and people who die of needless starvation, and people who die in senseless wars, and the survivors who keep on living with the pain and could benefit from the support of their fellow humans.
So my heart goes out to the people of Aurora, Colorado who were victims, survivors, and family members of the victims and survivors. My heart goes out to all of the emergency personnel who had to deal with — and are still dealing with — this crazy situation while also dealing with their own fear and anger and grief and confusion. And my heart also goes out to anyone else who was touched by this tragedy. It's okay to feel sorrow for the suffering of your fellow humans, even if you don't know them directly. Hopefully in due time, the outpouring of concern and support will help some of the survivors through the difficult process of healing. And for now, that's about all we can do.