07/23/2012 09:27 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Symptoms of Pain: A Tragedy in Colorado Unlocks Familiar Questions


It's still foggy. Parents, children, sisters, brothers... families are still in shock... agaped disbelief. High-eyebrowed astonishment.

We are in the just-after haze.

That moment just after the police have scrambled and caught the suspected perp and now are dismantling a booby-trapped apartment. A metaphor for a disturbed mind? We are beginning the process of the build-up as the news cycle lightly asks, "How did this happen?" It's when we stay glued to the TV, computer screen, smartphone, and radio to laptop reports... news... answers.

For Columbine, this went on for days, weeks, and even years as the security cam vids were released so long after the tragedy.

By Virginia Tech, we had whittled the whole process -- shock, pain, anger, and mourning -- down to a week.

This happens. Damn... it always seems to happen. There's the shock of crazy. The compassion for the families. A little introspection and then we saddle up and ask the same questions we asked the last time but change the vocabulary so as to not sound so close to the three times before.

And after a reasonably short period of crying, we get mad and grab hunks of statistics caked with fresh blood and hurl them in lunchtime gun law debates. Yet now these tragedies have been even more condensed. It's almost as if we can't bear to see what we are so we try our best to speed up the process.

What the hell is it with us? Yes us. Whether two or twelve, these massacres come from every level of our society. Across the board. And by now their frequency doesn't stop traffic. Or create shadows of history like Norway's Anders Behring Breivik. By now we arrange a short moment of silence at our desks. Even with new twists like the phone-vid of bloody movie goers leaving the theater we are still just concerned... not shaken.

Just what the hell is it?

I mean, when does the set of shootings like this begin to add up to a normal occurrence of American life? Some grizzly artifact of something we do that pops up every four or five years like the Grendel and snatches family and friends for horrid tribute. When do we come to the conclusion that we are a hyper-violent society? No, not like the streets of some Mexican town being choked by headless corpses of a cartel war. That is about market control. Capitalism.

But us. We. Is it that there are too many guns? Not enough? Are we over-medicated not medicated enough? Do video games give shooters the ideas and balls to wanna pull it off? Could it be our general indifference to our ability and habit of raining death down upon many by disconnected soldiers flying drones from within air-conditioned rooms under Vegas... as if it's all just a really remarkable level of Halo 3?

Or is this just the likely direction that a society so enamored with violence and death takes? It's nothing to see a dead body on TV now. Real or a damned good prop. Dismemberment is easily processed by tykes on their CSI-watching father's knee. Getting the same bounce from the same knee that I imagine happened during the bloody gladiator games of Rome so long ago. Or maybe it's our dance with vengeance articulated by the movie itself?

I know it seems ridiculous to go on an "impressions made by entertainment or war" kick. But these are the hard, everyday questions we have to ask because


It is no longer an anomaly, but seems to now be a firmly-embedded stitch in our social tapestry. A calculable equation that comes with a playable set of odds. Somewhere, in the next 5 years, there will be another shooting of innocent people that won't be tied to anything more than one or two nut jobs.

I am against the death penalty. Not for some empathetic haze for the worst of us but because one wrong verdict is murder. And the Innocence Project has proven over and over again how easy it could be for me to innocently end up on the bad point of that action. However, it is moments like this, that I wish I were for the death penalty. And, right now, I wish more than that; that there was a special kind of penalty for people like this alleged gunman. In my own private fog I'm like "To hell with answers...end him." But here is precisely when we have to talk and search for answers. Another killing won't bury these souls... even the child. Our hands have to. Another killing won't find answers to these disasters. Our minds must. Another killing won't make the laws based on reason... beyond our passions... beyond our painful hate. Our sense of justice must.

This is not an easy discussion. But after the hymns and songs, shrines and warmth, pain, suffering, and attempts for comfort, maybe we should finally ask the cold, hard, dispassionate, and oh-so-very-real questions about the place in which we want to live.

Because, sooner or later, we have to face the fact that these shootings aren't the disease... they are the symptom.

My condolences and may the dead rest in peace.