Thursday, October 13, 2011

Considering the tragedy in Seal Beach

Wednesday a heavily armed man went on a shooting spree in a hair salon where his ex-wife worked, killing her and seven others in the shop. What made that more of note for me than other such senseless tragedies was this occurred in Seal Beach, a place I've visited many times (and which would only be a little over a ten-minute drive from where we live), but it wasn't merely a local story; it garnered attention on the national news because of how unimaginably awful it was.

This is the sort of event that unnerves everyone, whether or not one knew any of the victims or was a patron of the salon. There is obvious empathy for those who lost loved ones in what, by all accounts, appears to be the crazed act of a madman. (Early speculation suggests he may have been upset over having to share custody of their 9-year-old son with the ex-wife. Well, he won't have to worry about that anymore, but he also won't have any custody of the son, as undoubtedly he'll be in prison or an institution—perhaps for the rest of his life, or at least well until the son is grown.) But beyond that it's all about putting yourself in that scenario and imagining how horrific it would be.

There's the standpoint of you or your loved one merely being at the place of business, minding your own business, and having this rampage erupt without any warning. There's also the standpoint of the wife, and falling in love with and having a child with someone without foreseeing what sort of monstrous acts to which he would resort far down the road after the marriage didn't work out.

And then there's the part that we dare not consider consciously, but still it's in there, lurking in the back of our sub-consciousness: Could we ever be driven by circumstances (real or imagined) to such hideous, ruthless actions? Even to the extent it lurks into any awareness we immediately dismiss that possibility; of course we'd never get to that state, no matter how bad things got.

But way deeper, there's no getting around the worry (almost completely unconscious) that the individual who gunned down all these people yesterday thought the exact same thing years ago.

There's no law or waiting period that can prevent tragedy when the darkest part of the human psyche bests the better angels of our nature. Somewhere we all know that but in order to make it through our days we cannot dwell on that, and we must conduct our lives as though everything is going to be, if not okay, at least not hideously tragic. Stories like this prevent us from being able to operate in that necessary oblivion, and that's why they are the most terrifying of all.

Our saving grace is that we can always, eventually, get back to that. We must. We have no choice.


  1. That's right - laws can't prevent such tragedies. Only people choosing to arm themselves and defend themselves can prevent such tragedies. If only one of those people in the shop had had a gun, they could have shot him where he stood, before he had a chance to kill so many. But no, this IS the People's Republic of California we're talking about, after all. ;-)

  2. Okay, I suppose that there's the possibility a shoot-out in the salon could have ensured a slightly lower body count. I guess we're conceding that there's no preventing people from becoming homicidal in the first place, so... frontier justice, here we come!


So, what do you think?