“No one is talking about this,” said my daughter the day after a gunman killed 12 people at a Colorado movie theater. Over summer vacation, like many college students, she depends on social media to stay connected to classmates scattered across the country.
Many of her friends had texted, Tweeted and posted Facebook remarks liberally sprinkled with exclamation points in anticipation of “The Dark Knight Rises” premiere. She was disappointed that so few of them followed up with comments acknowledging the tragedy that took place during a midnight showing of the Batman sequel in Aurora, Colo.
My children and I talked about going to see the premiere while visiting family in Oklahoma. We even watched the first two entries in the series on DVD in preparation. After the incident, we lost our enthusiasm for seeing the third as an evening’s entertainment.
The shooting was all over the news for at least the first 48 hours. We heard the repetition of meager facts and wild suppositions like everyone else. To my daughter’s chagrin, though, it was not a topic of concern for her peers that the lives of a dozen people ended just because they went to see a movie.
Maybe we all become numb to the numbers of deaths reported on the news.
“Do you know how many troops died overseas last week?” I asked my daughter. Silently, she shook her head, her eyes wide and somber.
“Eleven,” I said. I had heard the count and read their names on a Sunday morning news show. The next week, there were twelve.
Military lives lost in combat are viewed differently than civilian lives lost in public places.
Troops in combat zones face varying degrees of danger knowingly and voluntarily. Suburban moviegoers and their children have a reasonable expectation of safety. But circumstances cannot assuage the pain of loss for the families left behind.
We are shocked by violent and unexpected death, no matter where it occurs. If we are not directly affected, how do we respond? We want to know why this happened. We want to know how it could have happened.
We want answers, but sometimes there are no answers, so we settle for someone or something to blame. In this latest tragedy, some atheists are blaming religion. Some Christians are blaming evolutionary teachings. Others place the blame on a culture of violence-as-entertainment on television, movies and video games.
We could fault the mental health care system, lax gun laws or around-the-clock media coverage that gives fleeting fame to infamous acts.
Perhaps what we really want is distance from the tragedy. If we can just figure out whose fault it is and why it happened, we can explain to ourselves why it won’t happen to us or to our children.