In the wake of the shootings at Virginia Tech, and the media frenzy that followed, I’ve been awed, yet again, by the incapability of members of the media and the community at large to grieve. Maybe it’s human nature to disassociate from the pain and look for a way around it.
I’ve watched a number of newscasts and listened to a slew of MPR radio interviews that coerce the same question out of any Joe Schmoe on the street, whether they were involved or not: “Am I safe?"
I think the spirit of this question is actually right – the sentiment being that when one is faced with one’s own mortality, as is the case when a gunman opens fire in a public space and it makes the national and international news for days on end, one can’t help but feel the weight of the randomness of life and death. One might even think about how it might feel to emerge from that space unscathed, or to have lost a loved one, or to have witnessed the horrific scene and have to live with those images in your head for the rest of your life.
But that’s not how it plays out. Rather than supporting a community in pain in love, in empathy, in sympathy, we look to place blame, then to throw money at “solutions” that ensure that something like this never happens again. And then it does, and we all wonder why, or what else is to blame, or what other things we could buy for public places that would ensure that something like this never happens again. “Why didn’t the police do X?” “Why didn’t the professors do X?” “Where are the parents?” “Why isn’t there a plan for this kind of thing?”
This was not a politically motivated act with the power to incite a War on Terror (though the frenzy is ultimately the same). This was one of our own, a person who walked among us, and who was clearly and by all accounts devoid of sanity. He committed a random and unthinkable act of violence, and we lost 32 fellow citizens.
So, “Am I safe?” No. But will you live your life? Or will you live in fear? Because one thing that we’ve all got in common is that we’re all going to die. Most of us prefer that we live for a long time, and leave life quickly, quietly and peacefully. I wish that for everyone. I also wish that people would recognize the death of community in this country as one of the significant causes of the physical death of individuals. Think about that the next time you ignore something in public that you could at the very least make a phone call about. Think about that the next time you cast a ballot for people that serve in public office, the next time you watch the evening news, the next time you look the other way. Don't be ashamed or afraid to shed tears for strangers, or grieve in other ways, or take action.
And take a lesson from Dr. Jack Shephard “If we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.”