The Unthinkable Becomes Thinkable

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.

Holding Hands



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12 comments on “The Unthinkable Becomes Thinkable

  1. Dawne this was so clearly written from your heart. It is filled with both passion and reason. Masterfully done, my friend.


  2. Being Pagan, I follow a different kind of “higher power” so I can’t agree with you philosophically even if I do totally understand where you’re coming from. But it’s weird for me being on the other side of this – being one of those thousands that remain anonymous as you mentioned (I know, who me? I get that reaction a lot) – as well as having a degree in psychology. I’ve talked with those kinds of “lunatics”, watched it unfold, and understand perfectly well that anyone can be pushed that far under the right circumstances (obviously it would take a hell of a lot more for some people, but no one is immune). There are just so many things to go into it that there will never be a definitive answer to “why?” From birth, we are a melting pot and every breath we take, every sound we hear, all of it comes together to make us into the being that people are talking about when they say “they’re the only ones responsible for their actions.” It’s nothing and it’s everything.

    Could I do it? I mean, could I really kill someone? I know in my core that I couldn’t. Perhaps I have faced death and despair head on enough in my lifetime or perhaps being within this “sub-world” has trained me in how to fight against it, but I would always choose to give my own life than to take one. I’m not afraid of death, afraid of dying cause it will more than likely hurt something awful, but not death. I know I would be among those that chose to protect others but I would also protect the one doing the killing as well because I can relate to them in a way that most people don’t understand and probably never will. I have to remind people all the time that 15 people died at Columbine not 13; that the perpetrators were people too even if they did do horrible things. We like to portray the killers as devil and the killed as saints but it doesn’t work that way, we don’t get to forget the bad things that the killed have done or the good the killers have done just because of one event. Obviously it’s a horrible moment, but one event does not, cannot, define an entire lifetime. We need to step away from confirmation bias and remember that the world is all shades of gray.

    Ok, enough rambling, sorry if this doesn’t flow very well but it’s a hard thing to put into words. Plus, it’s bedtime…. although I doubt I will be able to sleep now xP


    • I really appreciate your comment (and I don’t mean it in a cliche kind of way). One of the reasons I started blogging was to “confabulate” and get to know people with totally different backgrounds and experiences.

      Before I reply to your comment, I want to clarify what you’re saying. I hate when I give a reply but I’ve missed the point of what the person was saying. Talk about awkward.

      You say anyone can be “pushed that far” under the right circumstances, and that everything that happens makes us who we are, including those who kill people. Are you saying that it’s unavoidable that they end up killing or that’s it’s okay for them to do it? Or just that it’s understandable (even if you don’t condone it) that they would break given the experiences they’ve lived through?

      You also say “no one is immune” then you say you know you could never kill anyone. I think I’m missing something there. Of course that could be because I forgot to get decaf coffee last night and didn’t get much sleep after all the caffeine 😉


      • It’s sort of a natural hypocrisy. I can sit here right now and say that I have been through similar circumstances yet I know -at this moment- I could never do it. However, if in the future I am faced with events that push me “over the edge” (for lack of a better phrase) then I can’t really say what I would do. Yes, I believe anyone can get to that point if things play out in such a way that it pushes them that far. No on is immune in the sense that we cannot know or understand what the future holds and everyone’s level and means of coping is different. Like you said, it’s easy to sit in front of our computers and imagine what we would do, but it’s a different thing to actually be within the situation itself. I like to think I have a better understanding then most, coming from the other side of things, so I feel alright with saying I could “never” do it but I know that “if the stars align and all the mystic forces of the universe” push me too far then who knows. I told someone once that I would agree to being tortured for the rest of my life if it was that or the Earth was blown up. After I agreed they asked me, if I was given the choice after ten years of torture, would I still agree to it. I told them it wouldn’t be a fair situation because I wouldn’t be the same person. Is that scenario likely to happen? Of course not, but you get the idea. Never say never.

        Unfortunately, for some people it just works out that way; not that it’s “unavoidable” in the sense of fate or something like that, but the events of their lives and their genes and everything else just happened to come together in a particular way. A perfect storm as it were; an outcome which triggers something inside of me that goes “I get it” even if I don’t understand it. There’s a little saying I have: “The world needs all kinds of people, including those who get killed by an axe murderer.” I do not condone it or think it’s ok for them to do it, but I do feel that we will never live in a utopian society and that in order for good to exists we have to have evil to understand and appreciate it. That is just my personal views though so I understand if others don’t agree. In the end, it’s all subjective and we can never know exactly what’s going through someone else’s head or what chain of events lead to that particular outcome.


      • Thanks for your honesty. I think your last line sums it all up: we’ll never exactly why someone acts the way they do. And of course, “Never say never” is something to live by (I just forget it often).

        I should have made clear that I think people have choices and are ultimately responsible for them, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to change or fix the circumstances that led to the situation.

        But I thought the most important aspect was personal responsibility for one’s actions. Then I talked to someone who’s close to an individual suffering from mental illness and she explained that their perception of reality is so different from most people’s and their behavior isn’t based in reality many times. I began to wonder if they truly were responsible for their actions. Suddenly the black and white I had in my head became gray.


      • For some reason it doesn’t want to let me reply to your last comment 😛 Anyways, I completely agree that we should try and fix things as best they can be. The only part that bugs me is the whole bandwagon effect and people only yelling about this or that because something became “big news” (that applies to only caring as well, which really makes me angry). I just wish that level of concern and compassion was applied beforehand, when people like Lanza and so many others needed it. So many people say “oh I don’t want to get involved” when all that really does is show the people who need your help that you really don’t care, that it doesn’t get better. I personally would rather be told off about getting involved then walk away and leave someone behind that I could have helped.

        In the end though, people need to take responsibility for the mess they made but it is not always solely their cross to bear when you consider how everything around us makes us who we are. Sure, we can’t hold the whole world responsible in a court of law, but that’s were the “trying to fix things” part comes in. Some people have forgotten that along the way and have gotten to stuck in their own mini-worlds though. Such is the world we live in but we continue to hope each new year that it will get better 🙂 Christmas may be full of incessant cheer which drives me crazy but it’s also a great time for people to be reminded of the forest beyond their individual trees. Kind of like NaNoWriMo where writers are a reclusive bunch 11 months out of the year and then really helpful and friendly for November lol xD

        As for mental illness, I completely understand how figuring all that out feels.


      • Actually, that’s one of the reasons I started this blog. I felt stuck in my own mini-world. There are so many different people and experiences out there that I wanted to connect with and I thought a blog would be a good way to do it.

        As for incessant cheer, my two younger children are into FULL HOUSE right now. (Remember Danny, Joey, Jessie and those 3 “adorable” girls?) Talk about going crazy. :0


  3. This was a really good post. Although I’m in the Uk, like everyone else I have been rendered speechless by the tragedy in Newton. I can’t really get my head round it or feel anything but an overwhelming sadness at the thought of all those empty chairs at Christmas dinner and beyond


    • I think of the empty chairs too. And the gifts that had already been wrapped and won’t be opened.

      I also think about the hundreds of other people who’ve been affected. It’s not just immediate family, it’s friends and aunts uncle, cousins, etc. from all over the world.


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