Pinwheels spin at the memorial across from the Century 16 theater, Saturday, July 28, 2012 in Aurora, Colo.
Photocredit San Francisco Chronicle.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. In 1935 two of America’s greatest talents, Frank Sinatra
and Cole Porter, created a catchy little number called "Just One Of Those Things."
It instantly rose, fueled by the sophistication and class that oozed from both these
men of the world. In it, they took us on "A trip to the moon on gossamer wings."
Hearing it (and you should go to any search engine now so you can), one felt one
could be anyone, achieve anything.
To say it was heady is a decided understatement… it was what America was all about…
and we thought exceedingly well of ourselves for the Great Republic we had wrought, the cynosure and envy of the world.
That was then…
… this is now. Now, with time’s mordant wit and cruel irony apparent, what was once
so lucid, now seems murky at best. Things we once thought important, affirming as they
did our "can-do" orientation and proven ability to improve most everything we touched,
now affront by reminding us of what we were… and what we have become. "Can-do"
has morphed into "no-can-do" while we were engaged in congratulating ourselves
on just how good, clever, and deserving we were of every plaudit and paean. America
became something from the "good old days", something we had unaccountably lost…
to our puzzlement, pain, and perplexity. Where had we gone so terribly, perhaps irrevocably
"The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, part of the greater Colorado Springs area.
One is hardly surprised to learn (December, 2011) that "Forbes" magazine named
Colorado Springs, Colorado and environs one of the best and most livable communities
in the land. This view is reinforced by its picture perfect post card views, its warm and
amiable residents, and municipal services which actually work and no bankruptcy
pending. It all seems too good to be true… and, of course it is, for the currents that
disturb the nation are all present and accounted for in Colorado Springs, as became
evident to all July 20, 2012 when a real-life "dark knight" in full body armor named James
Eagen Holmes, 24, blasted his way out of obscurity making 12 victims pay the ultimate
price to cover his cost of egress, with 59 others wounded and seared for life .
To secure his notorious place in history, he carried with him into a packed cinema two
cannisters of debilitating gas, two pistols, an assault rifle, a shot gun and an ample
supply of the thousands of rounds of ammunition it had been so easy and perfectly
legal to secure on the ‘net from the ease, comfort, and privacy of his booby-trapped
Never had mass murder been so effortless, so efficient, and so easy, a very model
for incipient mass murderers of every ilk and persuasion, everywhere on Earth. We
need not waste another word on Holmes, beyond our supposition that he did what he
wanted to do to secure the pernicious result he desired. If so, his is the only satisfaction
emanating from the killing fields of Colorado, for he achieved his destructive mission…
while the rest of us have not even begun to accomplish ours. And that is a measure
of our tragedy as a nation which once prided itself on its ability to solve even the
most intractable of problems. Now instead of rolling up our sleeves in an earnest
attempt to solve, we instead see events like this as "inevitable", "certain", "unavoidable".
And that’s that, "just one of those things."
The growth and consequences of "event fatigue".
The entire nation, all citizens of the Great Republic know well and have often
participated in the lugubrious ritual which follows each massacre. First come the
news announcements "We interrupt this program…." Then come the wire service
reports (carried at once on the Internet)… and the first bloody photos of carnage at
the scene, the innocent corpses who never knew what hit them… the dazed survivors
sobbing, their certainties of just moments before now gone forever, unendurable grief
and dismay now their portion.
At the White House, the president is alerted… and plans to leave at once, his
remarks an amalgamation of what every president before him has said of such
increasingly frequent incidents. Folks visit the site, tear up, hug, drop bouquets of store-
bought flowers, festooned with bright colored helium balloons and often children’s
stuffed animals, festive cards now featuring the names of victims. "Something
must be done", but only this little, this inadequate is ever done… until the next
"inevitable" massacre when this paltry, petty, pitiful response is trotted out again,
less satisfying, less persuasive, less acceptable than it was before.
What then is needed since the response to each new massacre becomes less
acceptable and less acceptable still, these responses victims of "event fatigue" which
turn even the most exemplary and conscientious of citizens into ostriches, adamant
in their desire neither to see nor hear the palpable evil, thus by such means "dealing
with it" by doing absolutely nothing at all?
This is what such a result means: that each innocent body laid out in its own blood
on school room floor, on campus green or cinema parking lot, each life cut short,
each family riven with anger, sadness, and an infinity of regrets and thoughts of
what might have been but which now can never be… these things, once the most
profound of horrors, are now regarded as a mere tax we pay for the "free" society we
have fashioned. And this is acceptable.. so long as it is not their bloody body laid out…
the lives of their near and dear cut short, or their plans and dreams destroyed in an
instant of hell. This is ignoble… but we are beginning to live with it… and that is the
most unacceptable thing of all.
Back to the future.
To move beyond the current unsatisfactory situation, where each new outrage
and massacre produces less response and more acceptance, we must remember
that every great society became so when it attacked such problems with will and
resolution, understanding that such is always the price of growth, development,
and greatness. So far, we have set no goals, canvassed no solutions, engaged in
no general discussions, debates, or dialogs. Instead, we have tried to bury the
problem as we bury its victims, one after another, all too soon taken. And so a
great nation, our Great Republic, betrays through its inertia its tolerance for
evil and its moving away from good on which we built a city that could indeed
be a shining city on a hill.
Thus, know this: every needless death that has occurred, every life cut short,
has occurred not because such events are "inevitable" but because we have
accepted them as such, rather than human problems with human solutions. In
short we have done what no great people can ever do and retain their self-esteem
and any claim to preeminence: we have declared defeat before we have done
anything to achieve victory. And this marks the full measure of our continuing decline
from our special, Godly mission.
"So good-bye, and amen/ Here’s hoping we meet now and then/
It was great fun/ But it was just one of those things."
Could this be our epitaph, the best we are capable of? Until we change our thinking
from "just one of those things" to "just one of those things we can solve" it may well be.
The answer resides in each of us and is urgently required…