I awakened to news that over 50 people had been shot dead and over 500 injured in Las Vegas. The same day, I received none of my consulting contracts was cancelled. So numbed was I that the implications barely registered. Finally, as the day drew to a close, news of Tom Petty’s death broke. For consolation, I turned to my son, Stuart, texting: “Tom Petty died. Sad.”
His reply: “Nothing is sad anymore.”
My instinct was to admonish him for his cynicism, but as his words sank in, I began to recognize their bitter truth. Since Stuart’s birth in April 1992, we’ve often celebrated his birthday while also mourning massacres like the one in Las Vegas. First there was the Waco massacre in April 1993. Then the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995; The Columbine High School massacre occurred in April 1999; The Virginia Tech massacre, April 2007. The Binghamton shootings, April 2009, Oikos University killings, April 2012 and the Fort Hood shooting, April 2014.
Most his life has been animated by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He has grown up in a country at war ever since. Not long after 9/11, he informed me he’d played the video game Halo at a friend’s house. I knew the game was a first-person shooter game, so I asked his friend’s mother why she was letting our children play such a violent game. I’ll never forget her response, “So that when the terrorists invade, they’ll know how to shoot a gun.”
Events abroad during his lifetime include over 4,000 American and 150,000 civilian deaths in Iraq, and U.S. drone strikes that have killed hundreds - if you believe the U.S. government - if not thousands, of civilians. Subways and airports bombed. Dead refugees washed ashore.
Closer to home, he’s seen a classroom of children in Sandy Hook murdered by guns and a Congress - in their failure to enact meaningful gun control - decide the killing of children was bearable. Too close to home, my son has lost two friends to violent murder, Chelsea King, and Taliesin Namkai-Meche.
Today, sadness is the penny, nickel, and, soon to be, dollar bill we don’t bother to bend over to pick up because it’s no longer worth anything. There is so much sadness that there is no longer contrast. The figures - Las Vegas, Tom Petty, a friend’s murder - have become the ground.
Stephen Paddock murdered over 50 people, and he's already out of the news cycle. Which is exactly why, in a macabre way, Las Vegas left Stuart curiously unmoved. Senseless violence? Yes. Communities grieving? Yes. Ways forward? Nil. All the Mandalay Bay horror has to offer, appropriately enough, is the smashing of mass gun death records.
After Martin Luther King’s assassination and before his own, Robert Kennedy warned, “First is the danger of futility; the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills — against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence.”
That is exactly where Stuart’s head is at, in a well of such deep futility that despair has become beside the point.