There is one thing every person (there are seven of us) in my family has in common. We are Hobbit and Lord of The Rings fanatics. Our family rule for Tolkien is “You have to read the book before you see the movie.” Through the years, my husband read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy to our four oldest children. And after a few stops and starts, he and our ten-year-old, D³, finished reading The Hobbit just in time for the movie. Everyone was thrilled when we got tickets to the midnight showing for the entire family.
The night finally arrived and I sat in the dimly lit theater next to D³, listening to the hum of anticipation playing through the crowd while waiting for the lights to go out. Suddenly the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises and the carnage wrought by James Holmes flashed through my head and a feeling of dread came over me. My eyes searched the crowd. Were there any lunatics lurking among the excited movie-goers? I checked out the exits and looked at my daughter sitting next to me. If anything happened should I shove her under the seat or climb on top of her? And I had a quiet thought, deep down in the center of my being—I wondered if I would have the courage to die for her.
The next day D³ confided in me that she had thought of The Dark Knight Rises when we were at the theater and had decided she’d hide under a seat if anyone started shooting. A few hours after our conversation, twenty-eight people were dead in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty-seven murdered; twenty of them children.
Unthinkable. That’s a word we use to describe such a tragedy. At one time, such brutality in our midst was unthinkable, but if a ten-year-old is aware of its threat at the midnight showing of The Hobbit, it’s not unthinkable anymore.
In trying to make sense of the tragedy we look for answers and that includes finding someone or something to blame. We’ll blame the shooter’s parents, blame the gun-control laws, blame the shooter’s dysfunction and mental health. We will be carried away on a tide of “Who’s to blame?” ultimately politicizing and demeaning the entire ordeal.
But the truth at it’s core is that Adam Lanza and James Holmes and countless others are the only ones responsible for their actions. Despite their circumstances, their mental health, their upbringing, the weapons available to them, the time spent gaming, the movies they watched and music they listened to, they were each confronted by a choice. And they chose evil. How many other thousands of people in very similar circumstances remain anonymous because they did not choose the evil that tempted them.
As for making sense of it, we will never be able to make sense of the such things because they are ultimately senseless. It’s against human nature to commit such heinous acts against others. It is goaded on and strengthened by malignant forces working on a level that we can’t fathom. We’ve all been furious at someone before but handled it without resorting to, or even seriously considering, murder. Senselessness is a fundamental characteristic of evil and evil is the force behind such violence. And that is the answer to the ultimate question—”Why?”
In every tragedy, for some reason, God becomes part of the drama. People who never give any thought to God when things are going well (except to mindlessly intersperse “Oh my god,” throughout conversations) begin to think about God. Some pray to Him, some question Him (God, why do you allow evil?), some blame Him (God, you should not have allowed this. You should have protected those children). But God is not responsible for our decisions or our actions. Free will is ours and God will not override our will with His.
But these questions remain: “Where was God?” and “Why was evil allowed to triumph?” The answers are that God was there in the midst of the massacre and evil did not triumph. Adam Lanza was not the only one faced with a choice. All the adults were faced with a choice that day–”Save myself or save the children.” And God was there when they chose to save others because no matter how good a person is, it is not possible, of one’s own strength, to choose to die for another. Right now, sitting in front of our glowing computer screen, it’s easy to say we’d die for a loved one or even a stranger in danger. And we’d like to think we would. I think I’d have forfeited my life for my daughter’s but honestly I can’t even begin to imagine being in such a situation, much less how I’d really react. Try to imagine for a moment dying. And then imagine choosing your death over your life to save another. Can you honestly say you’d be strong enough to do it?
This supernatural strength the principal, the teachers and the others were given in no way detracts from what each of them did. They were faced with a choice, and they chose good, and I mean good in the truest, deepest sense of the word. And in their choice they will be forever remembered. When evil threatens to overwhelm us, those that sacrificed their lives are the ones that renew our faith in humanity and give us the strength to carry on, for a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.