Excerpt from “Man was made to mourn: A Dirge”
Many and sharp the num’rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav’n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, –
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!
Robert Burns, 1784
On Facebook, someone had shared a link from the site heavy.com, which is paying tribute to each person killed by the Las Vegas shooter on Sunday. Somehow, I felt that I owed it to these innocent victims to read about each of them, each of these people who will never draw another breath or drink another cup of coffee, who will never again hug a friend or feel the sun’s warmth, who will never send another text or post another picture. As I read through profile after profile posted by hurting friends or relatives, I could hardly process what had happened.
America was stunned by the unprovoked slaughter on Sunday night. Even the brother of the shooter, who killed himself as police were closing in, had no explanation. Who was this Stephen Paddock? Son of a notorious bank robber. High-stakes gambler. Former accountant. Twice divorced. The massacre was planned; it must have taken months, perhaps years, to amass the weapons. Somehow, he moved more than 10 suitcases into a hotel suite without raising suspicions. He had even adapted the guns for his deadly purposes.
Why? He must have hated the world very much to inflict so much pain and agony on people whom he had never met. What was his motive? Was he promoting something, or, rather, was he promoting nothing? At what point did he lose touch with reality—for surely he had lost touch with what is important and what is beautiful in life. “Chilling” is the adjective that has cropped up again and again to describe his behavior. Does a psychopath behave in such a rational manner? Paddock had connected remote cameras to his tablet so that he could know when law enforcement was about to storm his room.
We have seen wide-scale attacks before, but usually the killer had some personal grudge or vendetta. Was Paddock’s grudge against the gambling industry or Las Vegas itself? Was he angry that his lawsuit against a Las Vegas resort was dismissed? A small offense can become a large one in our minds; years of fretting about something can make us obsessive and irrational.
Typically, I try not to follow sensational news stories, although I read more than usual about the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 because it was closer to my part of the world. While there was no known motive for that shooting, the perpetrator had a history of instability. My daughter knew someone whose friend was seriously injured in the Aurora shooting. In that instance, the killer seemed to be seeking attention. Like Paddock, he wanted to kill as many people as possible. Unfortunately for those attending the country music festival in Las Vegas on Sunday, Paddock was frighteningly efficient.
“The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). That was all I could think on Monday when I heard about the shooting in Las Vegas. I also told myself, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I had parents who loved me and disciplined me, who called me to account for my selfishness or my lack of self-control, who made me feel that I was loved and wanted. One suspects that Stephen Paddock did not. I don’t excuse him. I am groping to understand a man who saw people at a concert merely as targets to be mowed down.
Robert Burns’ words “man’s inhumanity to man” came to mind as I reflected on Paddock’s blatant disregard for the lives of others. While he may have cared for a few individuals, he showed utter contempt for people en masse. Not seeing his fellow beings as humans worthy of respect, he became inhuman. Indeed, he became a monster whose heinous acts have made “countless thousands mourn,” to borrow from Burns again. Across the country, we grieve with and for the slaughtered. I pray that God will comfort those who have lost loved ones or who wait anxiously in Las Vegas, not knowing whether death or life will be the verdict.
As to what prompted Paddock’s actions, we may never know. I wrote this post as an act of carthasis, and I am hesitant to publish it publicly because I don’t want to drag others into contemplation of an incomprehensible man. There is a lesson for me, however: to remember that every person I encounter is created in the image of God. Do I see the dignity of the homeless man holding up his sign by the side of the highway? Do I meet the eye of the bored cashier or the tired woman who passes me in the aisle at the grocery store? Do I see people as individuals who have importance? Do I love my neighbor as myself?
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4).