It’s difficult for me to write on the shooting in Las Vegas when I feel there are no words to sufficiently express what I’m feeling. Frankly, I’ve been struggling over the past 24+ hours on whether or not I should even attempt to find and write those words, and then — with even greater hesitation — deciding on whether or not I should publish them. But here we are.
I’ll try to keep this short.
What happened Sunday night in Las Vegas, nearly two days ago, hurts. It hurts to watch the videos. It hurts to hear the stories. It hurts to play out the scene, to imagine the shooting unfold, to put yourself in that crowd. To ask “What if” as you picture your fiancé, your mother, your brother… And I realize how pathetic and weepy this sounds coming from someone who wasn’t at the concert, but it’s perhaps the only truthful statement I can express: it hurts.
I intended to write against the politicization of trauma, to relay my severe annoyance at those who, rather than reflect and mourn, saw an immediate opportunity to spout their politics. I still bear this annoyance — particularly towards the politicians, talk show hosts, etc. — but I want to clarify: I’m disregarding all political stances as inappropriate and automatic — devoid of actual thought and empathy and sadness.
You know the feeling, this sense of automation. It starts when first learning of a horrific event, when the first question you ask: Was the perpetrator white or brown? — wherein you automatically play out the conditions of each potential:
- If white, then I must prepare to hear how President Trump needs to call this terrorism, how all whites suck, how *smirk* America sucks, etc.
- If brown, then I must prepare to hear how #BLM needs to call this terrorism, how #NotAllMuslims are terrorists, how *smirk* America sucks, etc.
In this case, the shooter was white, so the first set of conditions applied to our respective narratives. Yet, the unconditional constants remained:
We sent thoughts and prayers to the victims, we monitored the President’s response, we said things like “How awful” and “Can you imagine?”, we praised heroes, we attacked or defended the NRA, we lamented those attacks or defenses, we lamented the seemingly American routine of mass murder, we lamented the seemingly null points of thinking and praying, we theorized conspiracies,A distinct subsect of “we.” we each claimed the massacre in support of our personal anger against the world, and we moved on.
And life must go on. I get that, and I’m in awe of the men and women who dwelled not for a second as they jumped to the aid of others — the police, firefighters, vigilantes, hospital workers, blood donors, fundraisers… the men and women who simply asked, “How can I help?” and performed.
Yet, to the citizens on the sideline, the moment of unity was short-lived, under-discussed, and hijacked completely by one-eyed politicians who, as the adage goes, never let a good tragedy go to waste. I’m under no illusion that this is new to politics, only dismayed that so many of the citizens themselves turned to full-blown political sycophancy during a time desperate and ripe for bipartisan communication and bridging, a time absurdly framed by a common interest: us.
I heard Las Vegas continued gambling and partying last night.
I read “too soon” jokes this morning on country music concerts.
I saw Jimmy Kimmel tear up for gun legislation on the trending tab.
And I’m not such a prude that I don’t understand the values of levity and continuation after a traumatic event. But that’s all a luxury — a luxury of the living and the unaffected, of those unwilling to spend time to truly reflect and mourn and hurt over the lives lost, and to despair at the arresting implications of 59 dead, at least 527 injured at a country concert in Las Vegas.
It’s easy to get angry and political. And it’s easy to retaliate against anger and politics with more anger and more politics.
It’s hard to truly feel for the victims, to put yourself in the place of the victims’ survivors. To put others in the places of the victims and the victims’ survivors. To imagine yourself shielding someone you just met from bullet spray, or vice versa. To consider the aftermath: the horrifying realization of loss and the desperate desire to bring your person back, to bring back your imperfect, banal, but beautiful life.
The empathetic response to this is pain; emotional debilitation.
The heroic response is “How can I help?”
Without either, your anger and your politics aren’t worth shit.