Through a Lens Darkly
The Dark Knight Before the Dawn
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"I'm hollow. But Alex has come and brought me...from heaven, he's been bringing me hope. He's still my inspiration. And I know now more than ever that there is a God. Because of Alex. Because Alex is still coming through. Because that's the kind of man he is."
-- Tom Teeves
Shortly after midnight last Friday, I sat in a darkened movie theater and watched the flickering images of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. Unbeknownst to myself and the host of young moviegoers who surrounded me, a gunman in Aurora, Colorado had just opened fire on an audience much like our own, killing twelve and leaving 58 wounded, some critically. While most of us would not hear the news until the following morning, it will remain forever linked to the film in our minds.
When I left the theater that morning, I intended to write on the final chapter of Nolan's audacious trilogy—a series with enough thematic richness and complexity for dozens of articles. But when I sat down to write later that day, now fully aware of the terrible events to the south, I was unable to focus my thoughts. Was it the disquieting similarity between my own screening and the setting of the shooting that most unnerved me? Or was it the closeness of my own quiet hometown to the tragic epicenter of Aurora that brought the night's horrors so unsettlingly home? Could it be the fact that the violent actions of this orange-haired assailant so clearly mimicked the brutally dispassionate violence so frequently seen on America's screens, causing me to wonder just how complicit I myself have become in its proliferation? Whatever the cause, I could not escape the sense that the film was rapidly shrinking into the background, becoming an unimportant side note in a much larger conversation.
The need to grapple with mass shootings such as this one has occurred with a terrifying regularity in recent years, each time triggering a maelstrom of conflicting emotions in me: horror at the atrocity itself; sorrow for its victims and their families; relief that none dear to me were called to pay the ultimate price; shame at that relief, and at the easy nonchalance with which I take for granted the extraordinary blessings present in my own life; gratitude as I recognize more keenly those very blessings. I suspect many of us run through a gamete of similar emotions in our personal struggle to come to terms with last Friday's tragedy.
In the coming weeks, we will experience a societal struggle for understanding, as well. Law enforcement officers and media outlets will delve into the shooter's life—what he ate; whether he drank; the playlists on his iPod; what he watched; the books he read; his habits, foibles, hatreds, and loves—all in a desperate attempt to understand why he committed this heinous crime. The search for meaning is a profoundly human one, and there is no more obvious use for that instinctive urge than when confronting such a wrenching example of the Problem of Evil. But the pieces that make up his troubled existence will never add up; the gap between his motivation and the evilness of his actions will remain no matter how desperately we seek to close it.
Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. He blogs at Crisis Magazine, where he also contributes feature articles on a variety of topics.