Thoughts on a murder

There was a shooting today at our local Best Buy.

It’s not even a particularly crime-ridden part of town. Apparently a guy ran up to someone else as they were entering the store and shot him several times in the back. The police estimate he fired a dozen shots, eight of which hit his intended target. Other stray bullets entered the store, striking one of the customers who was just leaving. Both victims later died at the hospital. Last I heard, the shooter was still at large.

What’s freaky is that my wife and I were actually in the area, and could possibly have been at that store around the time when the shooting occurred. We had been to lunch and dropped by the nearby pet supply superstore on an errand. As we were leaving, she asked me specifically if I wanted to go to Best Buy. Normally I do enjoy poking around electronics stores, but I couldn’t think of anything I wanted, so I declined. Looking back on it, I figure that decision would have been made maybe 10 minutes before the shooting occurred. If I’d said yes, we would definitely have been there.

Tonight we were talking about it. She was still pretty freaked out, with good reason. I listened to her thoughts on the matter but didn’t really have much to add. This nettled her a little. “Don’t you have anything to say about it?” she asked. I’ve been mulling about it since then.

I suppose there’s an infinitesimal (but non-zero) chance that I could have been within arm’s reach of the shooter and had the presence of mind to deflect his arm, maybe changing the course of the bullet that killed the bystander. There’s a much larger (but realistically still very small) chance that I would have taken one of the stray bullets myself. Or possibly my wife would have. If that had happened, you wouldn’t be reading this now because I would be howling incoherently in infinite pain for the rest of my foreshortened life.

But in the end, chances are that even if we had been there, our presence wouldn’t have mattered in the slightest. Today, no matter what I had decided, one ordinary man would have gotten out of bed, showered and shaved, put on clean underwear, fed the cat, had a nice lunch, went to the local big box electronics store with a 10-year-old family member, took a bullet to the chest and died, through absolutely no fault of his own. Another man was simply walking into a store and got shot eight times in the back by a coward. This wasn’t any sort of stone cold bad-ass contract killer at work here. This was a stupid person pushing his own life over a cliff.

My wife thinks I’m too accepting of this fact, that I’m just going “oh well these things happen” when I should get my blood up about it. But I don’t see any reason to get mad about something that I have absolutely no hope of changing. The events that led up to these murders happened somewhere else, sometime in the past, completely outside of my personal sphere of influence and the sphere of any of you reading this, most likely. This didn’t happen in a vacuum, it wasn’t random violence, it was the culmination of a much larger sequence of events where we only notice the climax.

Am I dismayed? Of course. Is it tragic? Absolutely. But just “getting mad” doesn’t work. I’ve tried it. All that happens is that I carry it around with me longer than anybody really should, letting it corrode my interactions with others. After a while I become paranoid and closed off and fearful. It’s an awful way to live. Never again.

At the most, I can try to change things within my own reach so I personally don’t cause things like this to happen. It’s like a rabbit chipping away at a mountain, but any progress is still progress. That’s the best I can do short of climbing up on the roof and shouting angry things at the sky until I get arrested. Sometimes I want to, believe me. That would be pretty satisfying. It won’t fix the problem, though, sadly.

There’ll still be more crime and injustice and terrible things happening to people who don’t deserve it. It will take tremendous work and effort, maybe more than all of humanity is capable of, to minimize that. But at least I’m not making things worse, and I’m actively trying to leverage my tiny crumb of human influence to push things back the right direction. This may put me at a disadvantage, passing up shady opportunities and dishonest deals, maybe even making me a rube and a sucker; that’s fine. It’s not about me, or you, or my wife, or the shooter, or his victims, or the people they left behind.

It’s about all of us. We’re all in this together.

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