About a half a year ago, my stepdaughter was murdered. When you experience such a horrendous tragedy, you feel a range of emotions. Foremost you feel pain, the deepest anguish and grief imaginable. But also anger, anger towards the killer, towards yourself, even towards God. All the while you ask “why”? Why do bad things like this happen to good people? Why does God allow this to happen? What are the causes for such horrible things?
Alas, we are not alone in this. Today in the US, shootings are a daily occurrence. Even mass shootings have become common. Just about a year prior to this, 49 people were killed in a mass shooting in Orlando maybe a mile or so from where we used to live. So it hit home. But you always think, it won’t be you. And then this happened. We now are victim-survivors of a shooting ourselves. We understand the pain other parents and survivors feel after these incidents, and they will understand us.
The day my stepdaughter, Heather, was killed, she was driving somewhere when she got a message from her ex-boyfriend, asking her to stop by to pick something up. She turned the car around and drove back, then he shot her, and then himself.
My wife was the last persons to talk to her, being on the phone with her right until a few minutes before it happened. So besides the horrendous pain she felt, she blamed herself: “If only I had said something, anything, that would have not made her turn that car around.” Likewise, other friends blamed themselves for various reasons. In those moments of distress, you are looking for any explanation, any way to make sense of this, even if it means blaming yourself.
We were fortunate in that a good friend, a psychologist, was able to counsel us. One thing we must realize is that these are our adult children. And, and this may sound tough, as much as we love them, we are not responsible for the decisions of our adult children. Yes, something made Heather decide to turn around. But ultimately, it was Heather’s decision to do so.
And really, there weren’t any major indications that something horrible was about to happen. Why should my wife have said anything? Of course, you are always smarter in retrospect. There were some smaller issues. The two had just broken up, her ex was not the most law abiding person, he was depressed, and so on. But he was a gentle person, and nobody thought that he was capable of doing this.
Which makes the question of “why” even more puzzling. Why did this happen? Why did this man pull the trigger?
Alas, there is no simple answer, no single cause that we can understand. It’s much more complex. If we look at this event from a broader perspective, we will see that an infinite number of other events had to have happened, setting up the probability of this tragedy. In eastern thought, there is the concept of “mutual arising” or “mutual dependency.” No event exists in isolation. Instead, everything is interwoven, and can only exist in relationship to each other. And so it is here.
Let’s look at just a few events that fed into this: This event was possible, because my stepdaughter turned around and went back. Without this, it could not have happened. The event was possible because the two had a relationship; they met, broke up once before and gotten back together. Without this, it could have not happened. The event was possible because he pulled the trigger; one major reason for this is that he had serious depressions caused by a multitude of tragic factors. Without any of this, it might not have happened. The event was possible because he had a gun; if the US had different gun laws, or had a better program to treat mental illness, it might not have happened (and at that point, we all are involved).
And for those who believe in it, there may be other causes, such as destiny, a divine plan, or karma. Some believe that we are souls that pre-plan tough events like this before our birth. From a soul’s perspective, it’s only the lessons that count, including those for the survivors.
I could name many more causes, going back to the beginning of time. But I hope you get the point: it’s really all of these that made this one event possible. Everything had to be exactly like this for it to happen. If any one event had been different, this event may have not happened.
So is there a message, a lesson here? I feel there are several.
One point to take away is: We are all involved in this somehow. And no single event is to blame. To ask “why?”, and pick out just one event as the sole cause that we can condemn, like that man pulling the trigger, is to pick out just one slice of a complete wholeness and ignore all the many other issues feeding into it. As Heather would have said herself: it is what it is. We have to accept that.
This does not free the killer from his accountability. The probabilities may have been stacked for this to happen, but somewhere in there he made the choice to do this. And somehow he will be tried for this -- call it Hell, divine judgment, karma, or whatnot.
The next lesson that comes to my mind, and that may surprise you, is Love. Only Love can be the path to resolution. Most emotions we feel in this situation, like anger, pain, or hate, separate us from the wholeness that we are part of. Only Love unites, only Love bridges, only Love allows us to heal. Of course, initially, the pain is so great that our capacity for Love is diminished. It may take months, maybe years, but as time progresses, Love is the path. Concentrating on the wholeness behind this event may be an access point to it. I feel this point is so important that I am writing a separate article about this.
Another lesson is to realize that anything we do, even our inactions, have consequences. We are always involved, even when we are idle bystanders. If we become clear on that, then we can work on aligning our actions to express who we are and what we believe in. I wrote about this in my earlier books. For example, as a result of this killing, I took up writing again with the intention to help others.
So what does it mean for you? You don’t have to become a political activist. But if you have strong feeling about certain issues, for example the gun issue in the US, please don’t stay silent. Remember that even your inactions will have results. Speak up, or at least vote your conscious.
Maybe something good can come of all this after all.
[As a side note: I struggled with this article. In the initial draft I ranted against the killer. And then the computer crashed, blue-screen. It never does this. As if somebody was saying: that is not the way to write this. There are no coincidences. So I changed it completely around. I got your message, Heather.]