Monday, Oct. 2, was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had. And I’ve fought cancer, lost friends to it while I beat it, and taken certain journeys in life that have led to dire hardships. But still, the day of and the day after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history will not rest easily on my mind or anyone else’s, really, for that matter, at least not anytime soon.
While very few agree about how to talk about mass shootings — correct questions to ask, the proper thoughts to process, the appropriate pictures to share and, most importantly, the right time to talk — it was abundantly clear on VCReporter social media page that there were some very angry and upset people who clearly didn’t want to discuss it at all.
Pointed and focused questions about how our followers on Facebook felt about the facts surrounding the terror at Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas were received with aggression and combativeness, with few willing to actually answer them. Questions about feelings and thoughts with words that included gun laws (“no” to “lax” Nevada gun laws), slain, gunman, president, praying, were evidently fighting words, though they came from what numerous Facebook friends had posted earlier that morning. It seemed OK to ask questions on the VCReporter page about what people were already talking about. (Screen-captured images that I took and shared of an AP story on blood donations, a picture of gunman Stephen Paddock and the crime scene of two victims were criticized as “unprofessional,” as it pertains to Facebook posts). Buried in the vitriolic responses were a few people trying to respond to what others believed were only rhetorical questions meant to provoke an argument. The questions had been intended to foster open discussion, as that was what I wrote to start the post. Due to the high volume of aggressive responses, I took the post down later that night.
Monday seemed to last forever, as everyone was trying to wrap their minds around what had just happened in Vegas, that the gunman — a 64-year-old retired white male — was not the stereotypical mass murderer, that this just happened again and, this time, gunman Paddock was holed up in a hotel room above the festival and there was no way to react other than to hide, as duly noted by Caleb Keeter, guitarist for the Josh Abbott Band in “Josh Abbott Band Guitarist Rethinks Second Amendment After Las Vegas Shooting,” published in Rolling Stone on the same day:
“The shooting proved to be a transitional moment for Josh Abbott Band guitarist Caleb Keeter, a ‘proponent of the Second Amendment’ his entire life. ‘I cannot express how wrong I was,’ he posted to Twitter this morning. ‘We actually have members of our crew with CHL (concealed handgun license) licenses, and legal firearms on the bus. They were useless. We couldn’t touch them for fear police might think we were part of the massacre and shoot us … enough is enough … we need gun control RIGHT. NOW. My biggest regret is that I stubbornly didn’t realize it until my brothers on the road and myself were threatened by it.’ “
That morning, as the VCReporter Facebook post continued to compel the deeply angry to respond and as I was still trying to process the shooting and the Facebook responses myself and reacting to them, I got a call from my dad in Bakersfield that morning, telling me that he had been readmitted to the hospital for a third time in a month for the same reason, hemorrhaging internally from renal cell cancer, an ulcer on his duodenum, due to a third recurrence of kidney cancer but in another area. And as he prepared for a transfusion to save his life, he joined the list of the others who also needed blood due to this mass shooting.
As I talked to my dad, grieving the fragility of life and so much anger and fear and walking down California Street in Ventura, a man, possibly homeless, walking behind me, hit a metal electrical box loudly and I ducked for cover and felt my back to make sure I wasn’t shot. (The man did apologize for scaring me.) In that moment, I realized that no matter whether anyone is for guns or against them or somewhere in between, I feel comfortable enough to say that most of us have an inherent fear of unanticipated death inflicted by a stranger and there is no way we can ever be fully prepared for that. Ever. And others can attest to that, as I was to learn on Tuesday, Oct. 3.
When I received word that a longtime acquaintance, Scott “Scooter” Krupp, business owner and resident of Ventura County since 1981, had been at the festival when the shooting occurred and was willing to talk (Open and honest), I thought it critical to understand what he had experienced and how he was feeling. As we talked for 35 minutes or so, there were a few things that stood out: Krupp was going to go on living his life and not live in fear, PTSD is very real, there is no need for assault rifles and there is no easy way to address the pros and cons of the Second Amendment, period. But the most important point that came out of my conversation with Krupp was that simply talking and listening is essential to healing, for both of us. And if it provided some benefit for us both, maybe it should be considered to be a part of the remedy for healing for all.
As we now know that we really have no idea who is capable of such incredible harm, that there is no true way to distinguish the bad people from the good, what I have learned personally from all of this is that there is only one “race” that matters: the human race. (Animals matter too but they aren’t a “race” per se.) And until we really understand that life is precious and fragile and that life can be so beautiful, we will never be at peace. Perhaps now is the time to have honest conversations about our struggles, fears and successes without judgment so that it can be a wonderful life, even when it’s hard.