PRESCRIPT: I hate editing as much as I hate cleaning. They are two tasks that never end and are never really finished, which is why I rarely do either and rather pay someone else to do it for me. This week as a lesson in patience, I kept this piece on my desk for four days and went back and rewrote it every day. It was not a pleasant experience at all for me. I hope the reading of it is more pleasant than the writing was.
The very public deaths in the last 24 hours coupled with a very private one for my younger son brings the subject first and foremost to my mind. Questions will be asked and poorly answered because we have become such a fear driven society that we cannot accept the uniqueness of the situation of the man who shot his way to infamy in a Las Vegas hotel this month, taking over 50 people with him to his death. We will wring our collective hands while listening to the talking heads delivering the daily dose of terror heaped on this nation for many decades now. We will examine every detail of this man’s life to see if we can find the one ingredient, which will keep us safe again. Is he the latest alphabet soup terrorist? Of course he must be. It is the go-to cup of terror served nice and hot with each news broadcast since 911. What did he say last week to family or friends? How did he behave when he walked his dog or bought a carton of milk? There must have been signs to show he was going to take some 30 odd guns to a hotel room and shoot the hell out of a concert going crowd. Because, of course, he could have been stopped had he just did the polite thing and told someone ahead of time or acted bizarrely so some random friend or family member could say, by Jove, I think Mr. So and So may be on his way to infamy via the death of a host of perfect strangers tomorrow. And even if he did and they did, would anyone in authority really listen? We simply cannot accept the randomness of this. This is not so bad, but what is a shame is that we cannot accept the uniqueness of it. We cannot seem to comprehend the absolute rarity of an event like this happening to us in our lifetime because we are never given the statistics to make that case. Numbers do not lie. If only those morons who do these news reports would simply at the end of the broadcast provide the actual statistical possibility of this ever happening to someone, it would go far in eliminating the way people live in abject fear after these events.
There are voices in all our heads. We are ruled by a committee of those voices. They belong to our heart, our mind, our soul, our reason, our logic, our empathy, our fears, our self esteem, our past, our present and our future to name but a few. When the committee is like a jury of 12 Happy Men, decisions are easy. When there this conflict amongst the committee, the voice of intuition can sometimes break the logjam and sometimes not. We are not all equal in that power, nor should we be or we would have a very orderly, bland world indeed. The very vast majority of us conduct our lives in relative harmony with each other and the world, but every now and then, there will be an individual who has this other voice. This voice in their head that doesn’t belong, that always lingers on the perimeter, never participating with the committee, just watching. The secular may call it evil, the cleric, the devil and the scientist a short in the wiring of the brain. Regardless of the label bestowed, it is not part of the normal sets of voices that exist in one’s head. This voice waits its turn. It waits for conditions to be ripe, whatever they may be. And then one moment, just like the best New Yorker working their way through a crowd on 7th Avenue, it pushes to the front of all the other voices, jumps on the stage and now commands the actions of its host. There is no more committee. The voices of reason, and logic and compassion and love and intelligence and empathy are silenced for good. In that instant is when the deeds of massacre and mayhem and murder occur. So for pundits and persons to wring there hands and say what could have been done to stop this is ludicrous because that voice that can carry out these heinous crimes does not show itself until it is too late. If it did, then we would never know of its existence, as there would be no tragic trace of it. I am not disparaging the good a therapist or any other mental health professional can do for people who are disturbed. But you can only help someone who shows you they need it and acts like they want it. If that person shows you they need or want help, then the voice does not have quite the same conviction that I am talking about. The voice in one’s head needed to carry out the destruction of a 9-11 or a Columbine or a Mandalay Bay is devious enough never to let you see it but at the same time it is so very rare and this is what the media completely refuses to focus on. If when these situations occur they simply report it in small doses; efficiently, concisely and correctly along with the statistical probability of it happening to someone, I venture a guess we would not keep this culture of captivation and obsession with fear going very much longer.
Two encounters yesterday hammered home for me just how the fear machine rolls along. I was getting a CPAP machine. It is a nifty thing you use with a mask on your nose and mouth to sleep with when you have apnea so you, too, can look like Hannibal Lechter in a cute pajama. The technician teaching me how to use it was young man with young children. We were talking about the Vegas massacre and he told me he was at a volleyball event at USC with his kids on Sunday and it was out in the open and now he will think twice about going to that kind of stuff. Well I don’t think he expected the lecture I gave him. I asked him please don’t become one of those parents. Please understand the uniqueness and the odds of that happening to you is probably akin to being struck by lightening or winning Powerball. Please enjoy your kids and your life with them and don’t try to put them in a protective bubble. It will do more harm than good and in the long run get you nowhere other than continuing the concept of courageless living. Turn off the news or watch it in small doses. I turned it off over three years ago and I can attest to a better quality of life. People tell me what’s going on if I want to know and that is enough for me. I don’t want to be bombarded or glued to a TV for every crisis blown out of civilized proportion. I spent a lifetime doing that starting with the JFK Assassination when I was six. I understood his fear. I was one of those parents, at least to a certain degree. With my firstborn son, I never allowed any types of toy guns or weapons. I remember the first time a relative bought him a toy gun, I went ballistic and made them return it. How dare they buy such a thing for the son of a child of the 60’s, firmly planted in the flower power of peace and love, a rabid liberal, NRA hating mom? A month ago I finally sold off the rest of the over 100 Nerf guns, rifles and bazookas collected by my younger son over the course of his childhood years. I am relatively certain that neither of my sons will climb a bell tower in a rage despite the very different exposure to weapons of couch destruction. I no longer come down on firmly on either side of the gun issue in this country. I agree with the left that we should absolutely require a full background check before we allow someone to buy a gun. If I had to undergo background checks to push papers around on a desk for the federal government when I worked for them, then I want one done on someone carrying a gun next to me in the supermarket too. I agree with the fact that assault rifles should be banned, but I don’t understand how it’s even possible to ban the sale if you don’t ban the actual manufacturing first. But I also agree with the right that believes it’s not guns that kill, it’s people. The issue is very complex and not as simple as each side thinks though and that is where the compromises and reason needs to stem from if we are ever to make real progress in this arena. We need to stop digging our heels in and throwing politically, ideological tantrums and get to the middle on this where I am sure everyone who doesn’t have a dominant stupid voice in their head is anyway.
The second brush with exaggeratedly, exacerbated fear came in an email reply from a man I know to a question about a specific concert a few of us are attending this week. He said, No thanks I won’t ever go to concerts again. This is a man with grown children, not a young parent. That made me sad. This is a reasonably intelligent person, not one I would think to succumb to the propaganda of fear dished out on a daily basis but succumb he did or at least temporarily. I didn’t reply out of respect. I didn’t want to dismiss nor diminish his very real feelings nor try to change them. I know not if they are fleeting at all. Only time will tell for him. I am sure there are many people feeling this today and will in the weeks to come. It is a concrete action they are taking to keep themselves safe in light of the fact they do not have the statistical probability clearly explained or perhaps even if they did, will never believe the uniqueness of the act anyway. But even so, we should at least try and change people’s minds by changing the way we report this information to our citizens. Until we do that, we simply continue the status quo. And sadly that status quo will line some corporate crook’s pockets with change instead. I venture a guess that some lunacy will occur at some of the Vegas casinos in the form of metal detectors. What a shame to spend this money and put up symbols of fear for something that will most likely never occur again in the lifetime of most casino goers right now. Casinos are a fun place to visit. When I think of these metal detectors, if they come to be, I see the opening of the old movie Metropolis by Fritz Lang, where the workers are filing into the factory in such sadly depressing but perfect order. I hope logic prevails at these venues. I hope it doesn’t go the way of shoe removal aboard airplanes. One idiot, one time lights up his shoe and the rest of us have to take ours off forever. I hope cooler heads prevail in Las Vegas, I really do. As for me, I have no intention of staying out of any concert arena any time soon. While I respect those who need to do that now, I will also be looking for their tickets starting with this Friday night to see Coldplay at the Rose Bowl. Hey I am doing them a favor. If anyone out there has good concert tickets that you are now too afraid to use, I am not, so call me. Simple as that. Someone needs to sit in those seats. I pass no judgment. I just rather live by the numbers than the news.
Right on the heels of the Sunday night’s massacre is a public death as far away from the Vegas one as one can get, but no less random. What do we say about musician Tom Petty’s sudden death at 66 years old? I liked a lot of his songs but I don’t consider myself a huge fan. His songs provided backdrop to my growing up at times with the hits on radio. I have never seen him in concert. We have had our share of rock n roll deaths both decades ago with Jimi, Janis and Jim and in the past few years or so with the aging of our rock idols. Tom has to be the most random of all. Doesn’t fit the drug overdose bill or the years of hard living resulting in liver failure or things like that. Even though heart disease can occur no matter what you look like, I think in our collective conscious we always think of the obese, hard drinking, bad eating, smoker as the poster child for a heart attack not a lean and still great looking for his age rock star. If we take our view of death via massacre to be so remotely possible statistically because of the uniqueness then Petty’s death brings home the randomness and high probability of it in juxtapose. If it can happen to someone who does not fit the heart attack profile, well then is anyone safe? Of course not, but this simply underscores that leading a life in an overly fearful way, watching every thing you do and visiting the doctor more often than your relatives isn’t going to keep you alive forever either. This type of death is what leads to the million pithy platitudes posters to “just eat the cake” or “use the good silver everyday” or “dance like one is watching”. Although my circle of friends has no problem with anyone seeing them dance, especially my friend Sandi and they do it regularly. That is much better way to go I think.
Death took a more personal turn on Monday. My 15 year old son’s best friend’s 48 years old step father died in his sleep. He and his sister had already lost their biological father years ago. I went to the house as soon as I heard. I brought my son’s friend back home with me so they could spend time together and because no kid should have to witness the coroner at work. I hugged him and told him that I felt he would become an amazing adult because of his experience with loss and grief so young. I believe that. I believe to see death up close and personal at a young age defines your relationship with it. My mother took us to every funeral and wake she could when we were kids. Highlight of her social season we used to say. I credit her with my attitude and outlook on the subject as well as experiencing deaths of close relatives at a very young age. There is a patina I notice to people who have experienced it while young. It’s missing from those who haven’t. And that is as it should be. A cookie cutter world where all experience springs from the same well would be rather boring . I also told the young teen that I would like to tell him that what doesn’t kill him will make him stronger, but that’s nonsense I said, all it does is annoy you. He laughed, the best comfort I could give him I suspect.
The cause is not yet certain of this man’s death but the lifestyle is. I will leave it at that and not discuss too much further out of respect for the immediacy and the personal nature of this for my son. It brings to question our contribution to our demise. Does the level of control one can exert over the state of one’s health guarantee longevity? Or must it be done simply because there is no concrete way of knowing the impact of taking care of one’s body or not taking care of one’s body. Are we simply just hedging the bet here? And if we know there is no way to know, then we should take care of our bodies and minds simply because of the rewards that it gives us in living, not because it will prevent our demise or control when it occurs. It won’t. Nor will trying to apply logical reactions to the illogical actions of massacres or murders or mayhem prevent them. Sometimes we just must leave reasons out of things. Sometimes we must just put our faith in the numbers instead; faith that there is no reason for things like massacres and murders and mayhem and faith that the statistics show the improbability of it happening to you. A songwriter friend of mine once wrote in his song Another Man’s War, “I get tired of looking for reasons. Reasons faith will never find”. So go about your life in the best way possible for you because Death does not become you until Death becomes you.