Like the majority of the country, I’ve found myself moved by the tragic events of this past weekend’s shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and more than dozen others outside a Safeway in Tucson, AZ. The hustle and bustle of a Saturday of errands and basketball games seemed to be turned upside down in an instant when the news was delivered to my Blackberry. It’s hard to say why this event, unlike many other possible news events, captured my attention and that of the nation’s, but it did.
Here was member of Congress doing her job – meeting her constituents in the easiest of all possible places – a grocery store – to hear what was on their minds. Here were people just going about their Saturday, heading into a grocery store with the list of items for the weekend’s meals. Here was a child (in the same age range as my own three kids) wanting to learn a bit more about government and working for people, going to approach an elected official to shake her hand and take away some insight and inspiration.
This could have been any community in America but happenstance or fate had this senseless act of rage settle upon Tucson.
With breaking news reports coming over the car radio on the ride home, my 10-year-old son, fresh off of his winning basketball game, listened intently and asked a question that I think all of us asked ourselves in one shape or another:
“Dad why would this guy just starting shooting at people? It’s bad enough he shot that lady but a 9 year old girl? Why?”
Children have an amazing power to make even the most verbose among us speechless.
My son’s question was a fair one and one that all of us ask ourselves whenever mindless and senseless acts of rage and violence occur. But in answering him, I had to share the complexities that make up human life.
Nothing is ever simple.
The shooter’s sense of reality, or lack thereof, will be a source of endless debate and legal proceedings.
What his family, friends and teachers knew and tried to do to prevent him from harming himself or others will also be a cause for discussion.
The legal purchase of a firearm by someone with mental issues, whether they be known or unknown, will reignite debates on gun control and Second Amendment rights.
The inflammatory rhetoric and images of political ideologies, practitioners and media outlets used to rally people to their particular viewpoints is giving everyone pause.
The more I look at Saturday’s tragedy, the more I am reminded of the April 2007 Virginia Tech shootings where another disturbed young man, devoid of reality, unleashed hell and terror upon the innocent. In that tragic case, the complexities are still reverberating in ways that teach and inform us.
As I tried to explain some of these things in the car ride home, I found myself wrestling with giving my son as much information about what happened before so he could think through an event that had impacted one of his peers. Hearing that a 9-year-old girl had been killed outside a grocery store had struck home for my son in ways I did not begin to appreciate until I saw his reactions to it. This could have been a child he went to school with or played against during a basketball game or saw dance at his sister’s recital.
In turning the radio off, I shared with him that things like this unfortunately happen. I hoped they would understand that there are times when people choose to do bad things for reasons that only they understand. There was no clear explanation for it, nor was there a reason for it. Sometimes these things just happen.
I have to confess that I felt incredibly guilty for saying that to my kids, but my wife and I have never been parents that told our kids that everything in life is as perfect, fun and wonderful as it may be in their bedrooms with iPods and videogames or when they go play with their friends. Like most parents, we do whatever we can to make sure they are as safe, sound and secure as possible, but in the end, there are things no one can control and they impact us all, for better or worse.
In looking back at the car conversation, I feel that part of my son’s childhood may have ended this weekend, and no answer I offered or gently explained could prevent that from happening. The news he heard just reinforced the cold, hard fact that the world is a tough and often unfair place, but it is a world they will inherit, much the way my peers and friends inherited it years ago. Our job as a family and as individuals was to do everything we could to make it better.
In offering those details, the fundamental question still came from the back seat, “But why Dad?”
“I don’t know Zach. I don’t know.”
I still don’t have that answer.