The distractions aren’t working as well for me anymore.
And, who knows? Maybe they didn’t ever really work in the first place.
In the early evening of May 24, I found myself sitting in Mick’s All American Pub in Lititz, waiting for my cousins to arrive. I had agreed to see “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ”a second time, since they had not yet seen it in the two weeks since it was released. I am simply not cool enough to be the guy in the bar reading a book, so there I was, in the bar, staring down at my phone, when I saw the news – 14 elementary school students shot to death in Uvalde, Texas (that number would eventually be updated to 19 children and two teachers).
Each initial detail was worse than the last – the perpetrator was 18 years old, he had shot his grandmother before heading to the school, that he had purchased the murder weapons, along with over 1,600 rounds of ammunition, just days after his birthday.
I looked around the bar, as if everyone there had gotten a news alert at the exact same time. The TVs all had ESPN on, and the people at the bar were jovial, like you might hope they’d be. In a dark way, it was the most logical place to be, as it feels sometimes like there’s nothing more “All American” than seeing the news about a school shooting in a town you were previously unfamiliar with.
My cousins eventually arrived, and by the time the movie started, I still couldn’t shake the haunting details out of my head. I had enjoyed “Multiverse of Madness” well enough the first time I saw it, wasn’t enough. I thought, here are all these different multiverses, one where Dr. Strange is made of paint and another where the world is sepia-toned – is there a universe out there where the United States doesn’t lead the world in school shootings? According to a CNN study covering 2009 to 2018, this country had 288 school shootings, compared to Mexico, in second place, with eight.
It gets easier with each passing year to believe that human beings were not created to endure the sheer number of horrors that we’re regularly faced with. Take a second to think of all the different towns you can rattle off from memory, where the main detail that you know about the location is that people were killed there in a tragic way.
In the days that followed the Uvalde shooting, I looked for more distractions as more horrific details emerged. It feels equal parts glib, shameful or uncaring to seek out other things to think about in the face of something like this, but what else is there to do? Writing about it has proven to do no good, and I’m not pretentious enough to think that this column could do anything, either. If calling a representative or posting on social media could actually lead to any sort of change, you’d think that it would have happened by now.
Politicians, as they are wont to do, have continued to color inside the lines that they are comfortable with, blaming violent video games, mental health and a new one, that schools nowadays simply have too many doors.
Of course, the things that we love do not exist solely to distract us from the “real” problems we face, in a micro and macro level, every single day. Joy is just as real an emotion as sorrow, even if the former feels cheap when we’re engulfed in the latter. There are ways forward that will be difficult, and it’s fair to say that those solutions don’t lie at the feet of column writers.
I get it – nobody wants to think about this stuff. It is absolutely the easier route to chalk up another mass murder event as the works of a deranged lunatic, but that sweeps away the fact that everything leading up to the shooting was done “by the books,” just like the last one, and the one before that. The future doesn’t have to be perfect, but it can definitely be better than whatever this is.
Just in time between Uvalde and the printing of this column, another 36 mass shooting events have occurred in the United States, from Philadelphia to Fresno to Chattanooga.