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An ever-present issue

Tragedies aren’t isolated events

By Jakob Miller | Faculty Contributor

We have a script for these things. That’s how common they’ve become.

It started almost before the tragedy itself was over. Breaking news alerts with breathless coverage of what few details were known and endless repetitions of the footage. Social media coverage bringing an initial wave of condolences and prayers, and then the first salvos of the battle to come. Public figures letting us all know that this tragedy, was, in fact, a tragedy, and that they were against it.

We’re in the later stages now: Every detail of the killer’s life will be dredged up and plastered across the news, giving them their posthumous 15 minutes of fame. (I thought long and hard about whether, morally, I should contribute, in whatever small way, to giving Paddock the airtime that he perhaps wanted. One more drop in an ocean, I suppose.) Political activists on both sides will point out how this just so happens to perfectly align with their own policy views. Emotions will run hot and high, the lines will be drawn and the other side will appear, for a time, to have been replaced with thoroughly amoral monsters. Congress will have a moment of silence, and the flags will fly half-mast, and in the public mind a narrative will develop that tells us what this killing was about.

Earlier this week, a Las Vegas music festival experienced the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. (Photograph provided by Wikipedia)

Earlier this week, a Las Vegas music festival experienced the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. (Photograph provided by Wikipedia)

Because meaningful tragedy is somehow better, or at least easier to grasp, and because our minds scramble for purchase on these horrific events, we imbue each one with a purpose. The Pulse nightclub shooting became about homosexuality. The Scalise shooting? Leftist extremism, or the inflammatory nature of the right. Take your pick. San Bernardino? Domestic terrorism. Or political correctness. Charleston? Racism. We don’t know Paddock’s motive yet, but whether he had one or not, he will.

And with that meaning we’ve ascribed as a bow on things, we forget.

It’s become a ritual at this point — honed to perfection by all the terrible practice we’ve had as a nation as of late. We all know our parts. Once we’re done, a few months from now, we’ll be focused on something else. Las Vegas will have faded from our minds.

There’s something to be said for moving on, and for cheerful resiliency: like Londoners during the Blitz, keeping calm while the bombs fall. And something to be said, too, for using these tragedies to draw our attention to the issues in our society. But in our haste to package these tragedies up and put them out of our minds, in our quest for normalcy and routine in the face of tragedy, we overlook the root.


These events don’t strike randomly. They don’t fall from above like lightning.  They erupt to the surface from a boiling undercurrent of hate and fear and resentment. We, as a society, fight and rage and let addictive anger warm our hearts and simplify the world with its burning clarity: reducing those unlike us from people with whom we happen to disagree to something somehow less than human. Beneath us. These killings are just a symptom of that growing tide of contempt.

That’s not a popular story. It lacks clarity — a white hat and a black hat to hang on our friends and foes. It ruins our scripts and practiced routines. It makes the problem something constant, deep and ever-present that we all have to struggle against in a hundred small ways every day, rather than an isolated event with a single dramatic solution, to be mourned for a day or three.

We are called, as Christians, to love our neighbors and our enemies as ourselves. Let’s take this as a renewed challenge to demonstrate the love of Christ, not merely today or when the next tragedy inevitably occurs, but in every day of our lives.

Even if we can’t move on after the moment of silence.

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