The country woke up Monday morning to the horrific news about a gunman’s attack during the Jason Aldean performance at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas. The death toll rose as the day progressed, reaching 59 deceased and more than 500 people injured, making it the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history.
One of the victims, Denise Burditus, was a West Virginian. She and her husband, Tony, had made the trip from Martinsburg to Las Vegas to attend the concert. Tony posted on his Facebook page that his wife of 32 years died in his arms.
The attacker, Stephen Paddock, perched in a hotel room overlooking the concert, fired round after round from what appeared to be an automatic weapon. Concertgoers fled in panic. Others bravely helped the wounded.
President Trump said the nation was united in our sadness, shock and grief. “In times such as these I know we are searching for some kind of meaning in the chaos, some kind of light in the darkness,” he said.
Unfortunately, the search for meaning can be frustrating and even frightening. Psychologists say the randomness of terrifying violence is destabilizing to society. That’s why terrorists use it. The math is always in our favor, but one cannot help thinking, “If it could happen there, it can happen anywhere.”
Dr. Ira Hyman, a professor of psychology at Western Washington University, has written that research shows that if we can understand a horrific event it doesn’t impact us as profoundly. “When you can explain an event that explanation makes the memory seem further away in time, further from the self, and removes some of the emotional content.”
Maybe that’s a way we try to rationalize a tragedy so we can retain our sanity, otherwise we just keep repeating our painful trips through an emotional house of horrors.
My devout Christian friends have a simpler way of processing senseless acts of violence. Humans are sinful by nature and therefore capable of evil, and a person with freewill may do dastardly things. Their faith also tells them that a loving God will provide comfort for those who are suffering.
We can feel powerless at these times. These horrible tragedies are beyond our control and we want to believe we can do something about them. That’s why so many people lined up in Las Vegas Monday to give blood.
These donations, the thoughts and prayers of millions of people, the life-saving efforts by concertgoers, first responders, doctors and nurses—they all encourage us and give us hope. As the President said, “The answers do not come easy, but we can take solace knowing that even the darkest space can be brightened by a single light, and even the most terrible despair can be illuminated by a single ray of hope.”
There will never be a rational explanation for what happened in Las Vegas because the attack is, by definition, irrational. The meaning of such horror is not found in the perpetrator’s motive, but rather in how we console the victims, mourn their loss and strive to do good in the face of evil.