In the wake of the "Dark Knight" shooting, there is the inevitable and understandable desire to seek an explanation -- to make sense of the senseless. Somehow this monstrosity might have been averted -- if gun laws were different, if someone who knew the killer could have stopped the crime in advance, if social welfare programs to treat such sociopaths were improved, if movies didn't encourage such violence. And then there are our own rationalizations about why it happened at that particular movie theater and why it was those people who got shot -- Colorado has a history of these sorts of mass shootings, why Aurora is only 20 minutes from Columbine, those kind of midnight premiers attract cultish weirdos, etc. -- really any explanation that that will bring us to the conclusion our anxious minds are seeking: It couldn't possibly have happened to me. It won't happen to me.
And those thoughts may feel even more urgent to Canadians as our week began and ended with horrific shootings -- on Monday, two people were killed and 24 injured at a Toronto block party. A 19-year-old man, Nahom Tsegazab, has been charged.
Perhaps that's why Jessica Ghawi has emerged as one of the most compelling, indeed haunting, victims in the Colorado tragedy. I have not been able to stop thinking about her. It's not just the freakish fact that she narrowly dodged being killed at another mass shooting, at Toronto's Eaton Center, last month. I think it's more due to the fact that social media has allowed us to feel suddenly very intimate with this otherwise total stranger, so intimate that our minds can't easily brush away the idea, That couldn't have been me. Or, as HuffPost blogger Lisa Belkin put it, "Any of our children could have been at the movies last night."
Jessica's last tweets to friends about her excitement about being at the screening, including the very last, "MOVIE DOESN'T START FOR 20 MINUTES" are heartbreakingly sweet and ordinary -- youthful, exuberant, sassy, a young woman's cadence familiar to any parent. Jessica's tweets from the scene at the Eaton Center on June 2 -- she had just left the food court moments before the shooting took place -- were even more spooky. As she chronicled the ambulances and stretchers arriving, she wrote, "A man dressed as Batman is charging tourists to take pictures outside the Eaton Center yelling "MY PARENTS ARE DEAD!" Very tacky & heartless."
Now a man dressed as a Batman villain commits a movie theatre massacre. What are we to make of that?
To this I'd say: nothing. Absolutely nothing at all. In the end, none of us can "game" our fates. And this is why, ultimately, no sense can be found in senselessness.
The massacre would be no less comprehensible if, like Timothy McVeigh or Anders Behring Breivik, James Holmes asserted some twisted political reasoning for his actions. In a way, the very absurdity of Holmes' fantasy underscores the mad, murderous impulses that have existed in mankind throughout time -- ones that today find their outlets in the Holmes, McVeighs and Breiviks of the world, but also among tribal leaders in Africa and hired assassins in Syria. We can be rightly outraged that we live in a world that permitted Holmes to purchase thousands of rounds of ammunition over the Internet -- but would the massacre have been any less horrifying if Holmes had sprayed the audience with an old-fashioned shotgun?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say: Hey, massacres happen. What I am saying is that there is not much any of us can do to explain or avoid random violence -- just as we can't explain why some survive car crashes and others don't, or why some arrived late to work on September 11 and thus lived, and those who were punctual didn't. What we can do is heed simply what Jessica herself wrote on her blog after the Eaton Centre shooting:
I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders' faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don't know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening.
I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.
And we can heed the words, too, of Jessica's brother, Jordan, who took to Twitter himself to urge the public to "remember the names of the victims and not the name of the coward who committed this act."
I agree with Jordan. I think it is unfortunate that the killer survived -- and that his story will play out endlessly in the coming months. This seems exactly the attention such a sick individual will crave -- and indeed, part of the attraction of committing the crime in the first place. Better that the monster were dispatched quickly to his destined circle of Hell.
For now we can only honour the victims by, as Jordan say, remembering them. Every single one of them. And embracing every single second of life we are given.
If that makes sense.
If you'd like to help the Aurora victims and their families, HuffPost Impact has started a fund via Crowdrise, which has already raised $6,000 since launched last night. The page also has options for giving blood, supporting nonprofit crisis centers, etc. Go here for more info.