On Monday morning, when I heard about the massacre in Las Vegas, suddenly the traffic that I would face if I didn’t leave before the buses went on their routes didn’t seem to matter. The texts could wait. The lack of completed laundry, a necessary accompaniment to having a two-year-old and two-month-old, wasn’t as frustrating. All of these burdens stopped being burdens and started being things that, at that point, nearly 50 people would love to have. Their families and friends would give anything to have that be the worst part of their mornings. Around five hundred people were wounded, some of whom would add to the death toll, tens of thousands were traumatized in person, and millions more via one screen or another.
The little things ran through my head, as stupid as that might sound. “They were at a music festival, and now they’ll never be able to listen to Jason Aldean [who was playing when the shots began] again.” It’s not just the body count or the rounds per minute, those things were finite and, as horrible as they were, over. The shooter is dead and his fifteen minutes of infamy along with him. The pain, though, lasts forever. Not just in gravestones or scars but in the cost to individuals, couples, families, workplaces, everything. No song to come on the radio or Spotify or MTV (I heard they played a music video recently, maybe by accident) that was played at that concert would be safe. Each song would become a sonic trigger, for lack of a better word, to remind those survivors of what they survived; a reminder to those who had someone taken from them that that person did not.
In times like these, we are often quick to express a three-letter word: “Why?” We search for answers in order to gain some sort of control over the situation to prevent it from happening again, a reassurance that this was an isolated incident and not an ongoing threat, just for a reason for this to happen. With many perpetrators, we can point to xenophobia, homophobia, perversion of religion, severe mental illness, or something. Even four days later, the motive is unclear and looks more and more like it will not be known. So what do we do with that?
Well, nothing. There’s no reason, no cause, no explanation, and certainly no justification. We can try to do whatever it takes to prevent it from happening again, as I said I’m not delving into politics here, but what can we do as individuals to cope with this? As Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers.” Look for the people who are doing good. Look for the people who packed wounded strangers into their cars to take them to the hospital. Look to the first responders who did what they do every day, just this time in a major event on a global stage. Look to the people who do things beyond sending “thoughts and prayers”, and emulate them. It’s poor writing to use two quotes so close together, but a mantra I live by is Gandhi’s advice to, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
In a weird way, I have the luck to not have to explain this to my kids due to their youth. But for your kids? Follow your instincts. Unfortunately we have a lot of experience with this, even just last year in Orlando. For children who are elementary school age, let them guide the conversation. Let them ask questions, and most importantly, make sure that they know that it’s okay to have questions. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know something. For teenagers, really, it’s the same. Ensure that your kids know that it’s okay to feel however they’re feeling, whether it’s scared or sad or they just don’t know how they feel. Remember: The most important aspect of talking to your kids isn’t talking; it’s listening.
Well, before this gets too long I’ll wrap it up. The sheer size and gravity of the situation puts it beyond SAT words and just relegates it to basic feelings. It’s infuriating, confusing, terrifying, and, well, it sucks. It just really, really sucks. As much as we’d like to, we can’t do anything about what has happened. We can, however, appreciate the people who do the right thing, the people who are close to us, and even the traffic when you’re behind a school bus. We can draw inspiration from those who actively try to make a difference, and we can inspire others by doing the same. The worst thing we can do is pretend that it never happened or get caught up in all-caps and stupid-gif debates on Facebook or Twitter or whatever hashtag-laden service you use. We don’t need to fight each other; we need to help each other. Outwardly and unquestionably express how you feel towards those you love, because you never know when it’s your last chance to do so.