Higher Living Reflections

Shockability Quotient

Shortly after the mass shooting in the Boulder supermarket, I began a piece intended to address how the continuing threat of violence, given how it could erupt in almost any public venue, affects our psyches, individually and socially. As the writing moved forward, it developed like Picasso’s bull sketches, increasingly detailed until I began paring it to its essential point.

That is not an unusual method for me, but this time I whittled it down to nothing. Oh, there was plenty of content, to be sure, including information I had researched about the symptoms of PTSD and how CTS – continuing traumatic stress – affects us. But after hours of editing and rewriting, I abandoned the piece altogether. I am not sure why, but I am suspecting it is that besides the friends and families of the victims and the Boulder community I, along with the rest of America, have moved on.

And that bothers me.

So, what gives? Seven days prior, I was overwhelmed watching on local TV the real-time event unfolding. Images and deep-seated feelings rooted in the Columbine HS massacre compounded by each subsequent school shooting resurfaced. That sense of déjà vu all over again, though, began to wane. Besides one friend, I had not talked about it with anyone. It had become not worthy of mentioning let alone conversing deeply about.

I suspect I am probably far from alone. In fact, the overwhelming majority has likely done much the same. Ten people – one a heroic police officer and nine shopping, working, or getting vaccinated – had their lives brutally cut short. Yet, we move on.

There are likely psychological reasons for that propensity. Perhaps, we have become so used to such events that they have almost become like news on traffic fatalities. Perhaps, it is that we have seen this play out one time too many and have conditioned our brains to compartmentalize it. Perhaps, we’re so overloaded with other trauma that we’re exhausted.

Perhaps, it is out of necessity, something one needs to do to avoid falling into the pit of despair and helplessness. Perhaps, it is the instinct for survival, self-preservation. Perhaps, it is all the above and…???

I wonder about our shockability quotient. After the June 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando FL, gay friends confided that they were being more acutely aware of their surroundings and would scope out hiding places and escape routes upon entering public buildings. Now, more are taking similar precautions. Yet, we move on.

A common phrase tossed blithely about is “it is what it is.” It is a double entendre despite its seemingly straightforward declaration. At first glance, it is based in reality. For what is definitely is. The second is implied: a sense that no matter what one does, the current reality is immutable. Fatalism.

But that cuts against the grain of what we believe or like to believe to be true, that which William Ernest Henley avers in “Invictus”:

Out of the night that covers me,
  Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be   
  For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance 
  I have not winced nor cried aloud.   
Under the bludgeonings of chance   
  My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears   
  Looms but the Horror of the shade, 
And yet the menace of the years   
  Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
  How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
  I am the captain of my soul.

Am I? Are we?

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  • catherine scott
    March 30, 2021 at 11:23 am

    Right on, Jerry. This senseless violence makes us look forward and grow stronger if we choose it. Essential. Thank you.

  • Robert Williscroft
    March 30, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    And still, ever and always, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” I don’t have a choice. The universe forces this upon me (and you). How I deal with it is what matters.

  • Laurel McHargue
    March 30, 2021 at 4:34 pm

    Can we truly master our “fate”? Isn’t that oxymoronic? It could’ve been me in that store. And yet, yes, we move on because we must. You always give me something to ponder, Jerry. Thank you.

  • Bonnie McCune
    March 31, 2021 at 2:02 am

    I go numb with all the evil. Must be a self-preservation reaction. I have no faith that anything will help change conditions, yet I strive to do something. Otherwise, I feel I’m part of the problem.