Where We Are Left, After the Shooting

Aurora, Colorado
Photo Credit: Creative Commons / Alex Dodd

I want to share my feelings about the shooting that occurred last month in Aurora, Colorado.

Earlier last evening, I saw a performance of a one-man show called The Dork Knight at the Depot Theatre in Garrison, New York. The show, written and performed by Jason O’Connell, is part stand-up comedy, part personal narrative, weaving O’Connell’s life and acting aspirations with his long-time fascination with all of the Batman movies (from the 1980s to now). It’s a funny and touching memoir-in-progress that kind of swept me away, with O’Connell telling the audience about what was going on in his life at the release of each Batman movie. When he reached the most recent installment, The Dark Knight Rises, which only came out a month ago, I soon started thinking about the shooting in Colorado, not really listening anymore.

Then O’Connell acknowledged what I was feeling. He said he couldn’t get through this part of the show without saying something about the shooting. He said he was sad the Batman movies are somewhat tainted now, and he can’t think of them anymore without remembering the recent tragedy at the midnight showing. He said he was at a midnight showing himself, in New York, but that the tragedy hit home with him because he was in that audience. He was an excited midnight viewer, feeling like it was Christmas morning, watching a movie he’d been waiting over a year to see. The people in Aurora, Colorado, were trying to do the same thing.

I was supposed to go see the movie on opening weekend, but other plans got in the way, so I ended up waiting a few more weeks. I was relieved–it felt too soon to go see the movie, trying to relax and be entertained, when really I’d just think about the fear those people in the Century 16 theater must have experienced, some right before their death, others fearing what they thought was the moment before death. It felt wrong to go enjoy the movie so soon. It even felt wrong to continue my blog posts as if nothing significant had happened in the world.

I think, for a while, the media–and we–have become obsessed with the Aurora shooting, and with James Holmes. It’s been in the news a lot, and the subject still comes up in conversations I have with others and in conversations I overhear. I think we can’t help but still wonder why.

Of course, that’s the first question anyone is going to ask. And I admit, my want to know “why” has taken me to Google sometimes, especially in the week after hearing about the tragedy. I hate that, when I’ve Googled about the shooting, I’ve looked up “James Holmes” more times than “Aurora Victims.”

Basically, we will not know “why” for a while–the true “why,” and whether the reason for Holmes’s horrific plan was for sure due to mental illness, a political agenda, bullying, bad morals…the list goes on. In my searches that I’m embarrassed to admit to, I found a New York Times op-ed¬†on the subject of Holmes’s motive. The piece states that, even though we want to, we can’t ask why right now. The media is already doing so, saying Holmes was a quiet guy, kept to himself, didn’t have many friends, very smart, weird…etc. It’s already perpetuating the stereotypes we have in our minds about mass murderers, when really, as the article points out, the psychology behind a killing spree is often very complex and takes time to investigate and understand.

But I think I know why I want to know why–and maybe everyone has this same reason for searching. We want to know why so that we can learn and maybe even prevent this from happening again. We want to know the signs–was something like this evident in childhood, or was it out of nowhere? Did the parents do something wrong, or is it society’s fault, or both? If this was due to mental illness (something that seems likely), when did he snap? What is mental illness and how will we know if it happens to friends, family, or even ourselves? What can we do?

Though these are all noble questions, I think we are going to freak ourselves out by trying to answer them. I have to learn, as do many others, that we can’t boil this down into typical signs and stereotypes. I’m sure the only sign wasn’t just that Holmes was a weird, brainy introvert. We don’t know if video games and movie violence had anything to do with it. It didn’t happen just because there’s something wrong with Colorado (yes, I’ve heard people saying this). Crazy can happen anywhere and in any situation. So let’s just try to understand the investigation as it unfolds, and not worry ourselves over why right now.

When we finally do “find out why,” I suspect whatever answer we get will not be satisfying. We’re probably not going to sit there and say, “Ah! I get it! Now it makes sense.” Whether Holmes is mentally ill, completely sane, or in between, the reason will never make sense to us. Regardless of his sanity, it should not have happened. Nothing will ever justify it.

I also want to mention something else that this horrific shooting made me think about. Holmes wreaked havoc on innocent lives the way that the villains of fictional Gotham would. This terrible and violent tragedy occurred right in front of the screen showing a movie that is known and loved for its darkness and violence. In our movies and books and stories, we look for these kinds of things to entertain us. But when it happens in real life, it’s sad and disturbing to us–and rightly so. I don’t really know what to do with that thought.

Maybe when horrifying things are fictional, it entertains us because we know we are safe and that it’s not real. I really wish the shooting hadn’t been a reality. I wish there weren’t any victims. I wish it was just a story.