I was going to be silent about James Holmes and Aurora, Colorado. I think when tragedies such as this happen (and tragedy is a good word, I think; many others apply, but I’ll stick with that one for now), the first thing people do is say how horrible it is, and the second is that they ponder how such a thing could happen. In the past week, I’ve heard a lot of smart people offer a lot of not-so-smart reasons why James Holmes dyed his hair red, called himself the Joker, and shot seventy people. The truth is that we may never know exactly why, and that is a hard truth to accept.
I also tried keeping this whole mess far from my children, all the while knowing I couldn’t for long. It lasted until Wednesday evening, when my daughter saw him on the news.
I don’t know how much she heard or from that how much she understood. However much it was, when I walked into the room and turned the channel, she had only this to say:
“Daddy, why is the world so beautiful and so bad? Why’s everything dim?”
The reason I gave her was the sort of generalization every parent offers to every kid when it comes to things they’re still too young to understand. Something about how things have always been that way or how God was still in control, something that made her feel better but not so much me. And her question stuck so much with me that I knew I’d have to sit down and think some things out as well, offer my own reasons for what this man did, if only to appease myself.
We loathe this man. Let’s begin there. We say he is evil and broken and, if we’re honest, we also say he scares us. And why wouldn’t he? After all, the people sitting in that movie theater were us. They were parents and children, brothers and sisters. They were the young and the old and that great expanse in the middle. They were ordinary people who wanted nothing more than a temporary reprieve from their ordinary lives, and at some point over the past week, I’m sure we all have paused to consider that it could have been us in there. It could have been someone we love.
For me, at the beginning, that is why I hated him.
And then I considered what punishment could be meted that would be most just, and I thought it best that he stand defenseless inside a darkened movie theater and be set upon by a man wielding an assault rifle and a shotgun and a pistol and canisters of tear gas, and I thought even that would be too lenient and too decent, and then I realized that maybe the reason I hate him is also because there is some of me in him and some of him in me.
How can the world be so beautiful? In the stories of this horribleness we’ve heard victims offer forgiveness and the dead sacrifice themselves for loved ones. We’ve seen the courage of the first responders. We’ve born witness to the very best that we are in the midst of the very worst we can be. That’s how the world can be so beautiful.
How can the world be so bad? How can evil roam free? How can such hate and apathy boil over in someone whose only criminal infraction was a simple speeding ticket? How can it be that we no longer feel safe in a movie theater or a school or a city street?
And how is it that any option to curb such evil will never succeed? Easier access to mental health experts will do nothing if those who need it most refuse to seek it. Strict gun laws in Japan and Britain have drastically reduced the number of shooting victims, and yet violent crimes involving other weapons such as knives and baseball bats have skyrocketed. That’s how the world can be so bad.
But how can the world be both? Why doesn’t it ever seem to get better (as some say it will) and lead us into a new dawn? And why doesn’t it ever seem to get worse (as others prophesy) and plunge us into a midnight?
I don’t claim to know. But I do have an idea.
Perhaps it is because there is a darkness in us but also a light, and it is by their mingling that our world rests in a lasting eventide that is neither bright nor black, but only dim.