The weather was beautiful as we made our way along the country roads back into town. For the last few hours we had witnessed the comings and goings of a collection of the most interesting/scary/disturbing people anyone could ever hope to meet. Nestled among the pines on the banks of the Black River in upper Florida is a biker establishment known as, ‘The Outpost’, aptly named for its location at the very edge of nowhere.
Fifteen miles out from this wonderland of tattoos, bar wenches, and prison ankle bracelets, we happened upon a traffic back up. The more we inched forward the more I began to realize what awaited us ahead. Given the convergence of Panama City’s annual Bike Week and Cinco De Mayo my stomach began to turn as I warned the Queen, gripping my waist, “I don’t think we’re going to like this!”
Standing in the middle of the highway the stranger waved us around his late model pickup truck still on the road. As we moved ahead we came into view of every bikers’ worst nightmare. Not ten feet to our left lay the lifeless consequence of when motorcycles, alcohol, and oncoming traffic collide. Though it couldn’t have happened more than ten minutes earlier, we were utterly helpless to assist; the man was meeting his Maker before he knew what hit him. The lone rider had been ejected from his sneakers, with his face buried in the pavement and his $5 sombrero still dangling from his neck.
The rest of our ride my mind kept replaying the surreal image I had just witnessed as I kept asking myself ‘could that ever be me?’
The tragedy in Aurora Colorado has sent the nation, in much the same way I was that May afternoon, looking for answers to the same question.
I’ve been around long enough to witness a lifetime of tragedy both first hand and through the despair of others. And in every case, when faced the fallout of mind numbing disaster, I find myself searching for answers to these questions,
“Why did this happen?”
but more importantly
“Could it ever happen to me?”
I don’t think I’m alone in this regard.
Tragedy of the nature such as occurred in Colorado leaves us confused and bewildered. Violence of this scale with such premeditation is unnatural to the point of being alien to our minds and souls. Yet deep within the caverns of our conscious we can’t help but wonder if it could happen to us, that we could either be the victim, or more appalling, the perpetrator.
One needs to look no further for this evidence than steps taken by the media to scrutinize the killer’s background, his family, education, friends, etc. I’m convinced this is more of an attempt to satisfy some desire to compare than thorough journalism.
Whether it’s a tragedy of such a fiendish nature, the end of a marriage, or the financial ruin of a friend, it’s almost like each of us carries a mental checklist of sorts whereby we compare our circumstances to those of the victim – or the criminal. As we make our way down this list, the fewer boxes checked off the better we feel about our chances and ourselves. Yet the more similarities we find the more desperate we look for any shred of contrast, however small, upon which to rest our conscious.
Take for example the murderer in Aurora.
By all accounts this level of violence should only be committed by a psychopathic hell raiser whose father left him along with his drug addict mother when he was four and whose most stable residency has been a state penal facility. Instead a white-collar family upper middle class white kid who seemed the epitome of normal acted it out. Whose parents likely paid their taxes on time, led the PTA, chaired the annual bake sale, and volunteered on weekends.
As we rode I went down my own checklist looking for any glimmer of hope that would allow me to put this poor biker’s fate squarely on his shoulders, instead of Providence, bad luck, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Only when I had convinced my self that he was probably drunk, given the hat choice, and reckless, riding without a helmet, did I feel better that he had brought this tragedy upon himself.
This post came about after reading a fellow blogger’s take on the shooting, the media’s excessive scrutiny, and how prejudice regrettably creeps into the story line.
“I’m also sick and tired of this whole ’he’s different’ angle, how ‘bright’ and what an ‘intellectual’ he is, how he came from an ‘affluent suburb’ and ‘good family’, and this whole thing about him being ‘quiet’. The fact that he is obviously a lot of ’let’s give him the benefit of the doubt’ pseudo-positive”
There isn’t a parent who, if answering honestly, wouldn’t feel shamefully better if James Holmes had been a screwed up kid from a broken home, abused as a child, on drugs, or guilty of some major behavioral offense. In so doing it would have given the entire white-collar world and every Caucasian married to their first spouse, with a dog, and picket fence a sigh of relief by being able to say “well, no wonder it happened….” followed by any number of forced rationale; none of which is marked on their checklist.
The point of the matter is this, the killer’s background, education, and family history isn’t the story line here and should be left to legal experts and medical professionals as the wheels of justice begin turning to vindicate the innocent. Our intense, almost burning, need to know doesn’t pay one iota of homage or respect to the victims or their families who are left to pick up the pieces; instead it only serves to let us feel better about ourselves and to maybe answer the question “could that ever happen to me?”