The authorities released their names today. The media has culled photos of them and put these images on line. I looked at each person. I read each caption that wrote about them. The media stated their reasons for attending the concert. It identified what they celebrated. It told us about their work and if they had children. It stated that some died shielding another from the bullets. It listed their hobbies and anniversaries. However well intentioned, presenting them to us as mothers and veterans and off-duty police officers does not serve us. They are not important to us because of how they lived. They are important to us because of how they died. Photos of them at their best, surrounded by friends, smiling, as the professionals they were, individuates them and, ironically enough, begins to mitigate the impact this event has upon us. As we consider their smiles, their talents, their children and other survivors, our sad attention turns to them and considers less the horror of what happened to them on Sunday night.
We now imagine what their lives were like and would have been. That imagining replaces the shock and stupor we experienced before we saw them smile at us. We cannot imagine how they lived their lives. We must continue to imagine how they died. We know them because they were killed listening to music while someone fired a thousand bullets into their bodies from a hotel room, a hotel room where the killer amassed 20 assault rifles. That is the only reason we know them. It does not matter how they lived. The only thing that should matter for those of us who did not love them is how they were killed.
They went to a concert for CHRISTSAKE! That’s it. That’s all it was. The anniversaries celebrated, the interest in Country Music, their friends, their celebrated marriages, retirements, births of grandchildren, none of this is important to us. It wasn’t important to us before the shooting began. Do not allow the attention on its importance now to erode the consciousness that acknowledges this insanity, that sober knowledge that what happened to those dead is unacceptable. I will resist, to the best of my ability, any attention to their lives that mitigates my clarity that we, as a society, dwell without hope if we continue in our inability to prevent this.
The Las Vegas coroner released the names of the 58 people killed in Las Vegas. He said that he would not communicate of the details of the life-ending injuries in the massacre, “Out of respect for the families.” He didn’t want that information circulating in the social media. It will be months before that information becomes public. I say to you, sir, release it right now. If you want to help stop this, if you want to there to be less chance that you will have to notify more families in a year, ten years, or tonight, let us see this for the horror that it is. Call me morbid. But more morbid than a people who allow this to continue?
The coroner’s response doesn’t puzzle. Our response doesn’t puzzle me. Not even a week after the massacre, we have engaged our auto- response systems and now return to the rhythms and circumstances of our lives. Lots of photos of the makeshift memorial at the death scene surface on the news. I’ll visit it myself when I travel to my hometown in a couple of weeks. Las Vegans erect homemade signs that say, ‘Vegas Strong.’ Others offer similar sentiments. All of this has happened before. It happened after the last shooting. It will happen again, after the next shooting. We are well-practiced in surviving these massacres. After the shooting that preceded Sunday night’s, those just killed, practiced the same self-preservation as we do now. Given their recently acquired knowledge of the ultimate consequences of this lunacy, I expect they would encourage us, from wherever they find themselves now, to put less value on surviving these shootings and returning to normalcy and more of a premium on stopping them.
How different would our national response be if the 58 dead bodies (do not forget this: they are known to us because they are now dead bodies) were lined up behind the Las Vegas coroner, in full view, placed there, as if in morgue, cleaned-up from the dried blood, the gaping wounds sutured. Nude. Would their swelled bodies move us to action, to change? Would the blue-black hue of their rigid bodies motivate us to move our own bodies to decisiveness and action? Would their rigor mortis end ours?
Beautiful, handsome and gorgeous: mothers, patriots, a teacher, grandparents, celebrators of anniversaries, law enforcement officers, school secretaries. But they are well known not because of the way they lived, but because of how they died. If not for the ‘active shooter’-an increasingly utilized and increasingly familiar term-we would not know them. They are honored and cried over and written about because they bled to death on Las Vegas asphalt while attending a country music concert. Let us not forget that. Attention on their lives and heroics does not serve us. It inoculates us. It renders them individuals and removes them from the scene of the killing where they must remain. They are only special because they were killed by this plague. The circumstances of their death that has brought them to us. Leave it to their families and loved ones who have to endure their loss, for whom their death is real and dark and empty, to memorialize them. Let their loved ones see them at their best. It is not for us to honor these people we never knew by noticing their full smiles and contentment. We must remember that a thousand bullets from Hell, descended on them and destroyed their lives. They died instantly and they died slowly. The only image we need remember is the blood-the same life stream that still flows in our bodies, that calls for our own heroism- exploding from their chests, and lungs, and necks, and heads. It happened Sunday night because a man with twenty assault rifles in a hotel room shot them down at 10:08 pm in Las Vegas, Nevada while they listened to music.
I don’t care about the killer. I really don’t. We obsess nationally on his life as if his story was unique, as if this is the first time as a nation something like this has happened. We know that not to be true. If his story was really all that unique or if this were such a strange and isolated occurrence in our land then I would spend time learning about this man. But there have been too many of these killers for me to express any interest in him whatsoever. I am only interested that he possessed that many assault weapons, that he was allowed to possess that many assault weapons, and that he fired those assault weapons into a crowd. I don’t care about his history, his family, or even his soul. His soul is God’s problem. We inoculate ourselves against this rabid epidemic by caring about the killers. I don’t give fuck all about why he did it. I care about his ability to do it. I honestly wonder why in God’s name we don’t do whatever it takes to stop this from happening again. Whatever it takes.
I’m no more, no less affected by this as anybody else. I’m no less no more susceptible to our cultural and personal tendencies to sanitize and inoculate against pain. Actually, as someone with addictions, I’m probably more inclined to avoid pain than most. But in my most sober moments, my most awake moments, when I consider these killings, I ask myself, what is happening and why does this continue? It’s so predictable, the way we respond: the shock first then the understanding of the event then the focus on the shooter then on the victims. And that’s it. Then we are done. Until the next time. Make no mistake. There will be a next time. It is going to happen. It’s going to happen because we literally are doing nothing about this plaque. If you think that adding an extra day or even a week to a background check or putting bullet-proof windows in hotel rooms or funding mental health screenings will is something, you are in denial about the pestilence that this is.
So, many things in this life are beyond are control: a cancer diagnosis, traffic deaths, hurricanes, even a goddamn sinkhole. We cannot prevent many things in this life that harm and take us. At our existential core we all share, we know this to be true.
But there are many things we can do, many things we can prevent, many things we can change. I know this to be one. I simply think we are too good a people with too noble a vision and too rich (and broken) a history to think we are impotent. Legislation changes things. Consciousness changes things. Cultures change and adapt and respond to leadership and creativity. They also respond to lack of leadership and the dearth of creativity.
Because of the random nature of these killings, we all know, again at some inner, unconscious core, that no one is risk-free. Be it a Las Vegas concert, a Connecticut or Colorado school, or an Orlando night club, there is no escape from this. The only solution is to address this. To prevent this. To stop this. I will not be brought into the petty bickering of gun-control -vs-the Second Amendment. I will not decide between personal freedom and national security. These killings are not the price of liberty. True liberty is freesom from this threat, the freedom to leave a classroom door open, to go to a bar or disco for dance and libation, to attend a concert on a Sunday night without one iota of anxiety that we or someone we know and love-or don’t know and love-will die because of preventable gun violence.
I don’t how to stop this. I am trying to do my part by sharing the turmoil these events render in me. I believe it can be stopped. It can be prevented. It is not inevitable as if it were an unavoidable and inherited physical trait.
I wish the lady who was a school secretary was going back to school on Tuesday. I know how important good ones are. She’s not. She’s dead. She died at a in Las Vegas. She died because a man killed her with assault weapons from a hotel room. He had twenty of those rifles in the room. He had as many in his home. The man and his weapons (did I mention he had 20 assault rifles with him. I think it’s important to point that out, to ask you to remember that) killed 57 other people. It’s the deadliest killing in the history of the United States. Until it’s not.
I live in southeastern Arizona where I teach high school history. My home is very close to US/MX border and the border and the countries it divides are very close to my heart. For a little over twenty years, I served the Episcopal church as a priest, but now I work as a teacher. I use sethpolley.com for my writing website, but I also have another site, seteoblog.wordpress.com where I write a blog. At this point in my writing career I have received a couple of honorable mentions in writing contests, and have self-published two short monographs. I'm planning on continuing to write and look forward to the time when I can devote more time to it.
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