I usually tell stories about what’s happening around me.
There’s snow falling outside the window here in Idaho.
This isn’t really a story, though.
Because tears are falling everywhere else, from Las Vegas to a hospital room where Tom Petty is clinging to life.
He’s still standing at the gates of hell, because he won’t back down.
Just like his song says.
He’s probably not really at the gates of hell, but if that’s where he’s going, I want to go too.
All I know for sure is that the coward shooting fish in a barrel from a 32nd floor window isn’t in the same place that Tom Petty is heading.
A distant friend of a friend was shot in the neck at that country music festival last night in Las Vegas. He’s gone.
The deadliest shooting in modern history is tragic, horrific, and yes, evil.
But most of all, overwhelmingly sad for those of us still here: those hanging on to life in hospitals, those friends and family members left behind, those who are citizens of this world wanting a better place.
The media is on a blame-hunt, trying to uncover something that will explain last night away. Because that’s what we think we need: answers. Myths and legends, even our religions, exist to give meaning to a random world.
But sometimes I think bad shit just happens.
It doesn’t always make sense.
And folks are already using Las Vegas to advance their own narrative of whatever they’re against. From guns to open-air concerts: you name it, Vegas proves it.
We seem to be against a lot these days, sort of like the NFL players ‘protesting’ against inequality during the national anthem.
How about we try being for something, instead of always against something?
For is proactive. Against is reactive.
I wonder what the world would look like if we were for equality instead of against inequality. For understanding instead of against prejudice. For compassion instead of against intolerance.
When I was doing research for ‘For The Sender: Love Letters from Vietnam,’ I noticed that Steinbeck wondered the same thing when his kid was fighting in Vietnam: "I must believe that the plodding protest marchers who spend their days across from the UN and around the White House hate war. I think I have more reason than most of them to hate it. But would they enlist for medical service? They could be trained quickly and would not be required to kill anyone. If they love people so much, why are they not willing to help save them? This country is woefully short of medical help. It might be dangerous to use this method of protest, and besides, if they left the country, their relief checks might stop. But in return they might gain a little pride in themselves as being for something instead of only against."
‘A little pride.’ My favorite Tom Petty song has a lyric about how even the losers keep a little pride.
A few years ago, I got a letter from the mother of the victim of another mass shooting. Her child was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. She chose to be for something, instead of against something, and her curriculum for social and emotional learning in schools is gaining traction and making a massive impact.
The same narratives were being thrown around back when I got her letter, and I remember hearing the familiar ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people.’ I thought about guns and I thought about people and came to the conclusion that neither guns nor people do the actual killing.
The bullet does.
But the bullet has no choice in the matter. It has to go where it is sent.
So a few days after I got that letter, I wrote a song of apology from the bullet to the child:
but i don't make those kind of choices / i have to go where i am sent / i never know where i am going / until i know where i went
i didn't mean to hurt you/ i had to go where i was sent / i didn't know where i was going / but now i know where i went
The bullet didn’t have a choice.
But we do have a choice.
So tonight I’m going to listen to Molly sing this song and feel whatever I’m going to feel and think whatever I’m going to think.
But no matter what, I’m going to work toward being more for something than against.