If any solace can come from frequent violence, it’s a reminder to live for now

Focusing on the immediate creates room for small acts of bravery.

The 11 deaths in New York and Colorado last week in random acts of violence were both dizzying and a slap in the face. My son recently started a job not far from the site of the terrorist attack in lower Manhattan, and my daughter goes to school near Thornton, Colorado, where a gunman shot three people in Walmart. The unrelenting and unabashed look at how our fleeting and fragile lives are at the mercy of madmen has had a small and surprising effect on my psyche. The imminence of death by sociopath is not reassuring, but it has adjusted my focus on life.

Is it possible there is a bright side to our seemingly increased odds of being gunned down by a right-wing extremist or run over by an Islamic State coward? Doubtful. Or how about the prospect that we will all soon succumb to an epic natural disaster?

We are told thinking that positive thoughts increases resilience and improves our health, right? And good health is a necessary component of productivity, so there is no shame in our numbing to the repeated acts of domestic terrorism foisted upon us day in and day out. There is an opportunity to be courageous. The chaos of the moment is our wake-up call to seize the day.

For starters, if we’re all going to die prematurely at the hands of deranged men, and if politicizing the violence is inappropriate, can we at least stop feeling guilty about not saving enough or planning for retirement? Enough already about the golden years. The news says it all. There is no Emerald City, folks, only “Oz.” And that bright green grass on the golf course you see in the magazine? News alert: It’s fake.

We are at the mercy of idiots and strongmen who might drop a nuclear bomb or mow us down with a speeding truck or a cache of assault weapons and handguns. Skip the long-term care insurance and go for the surf and turf. Make hay while the sun shines.

We are made of star stuff, and stars live and shine for billions of years, right? Why the big rush for so many to stop working after only a couple decades? If America’s obsession with saving and planning for a so-called comfortable retirement is disrupted by today’s chaos and instability, that’s good. All hands are needed on deck to right the ship. Retirement is surrender – an early retreat to an artificial life when many still have creative energy and accumulated wisdom to solve problems.

Another ounce of fullness in the cup of serial tragedy is the unintended consequence of numbness. The criminals who seek to wreak havoc by instilling fear are like the shots of anesthesia you get at the dentist before a drilling or extraction – several very brief, sharp stabs that lead to numbness over time. These guys who keep killing people are terrorists only if we remain afraid of them. Otherwise, they are just losers.

Focusing on the here and now without fear creates space for small acts of courage, self-expression and kindness. The Twitter customer support employee who, on the last day of the job, deactivated Donald Trump’s account for 11 minutes Thursday is a good example of pluck needed. Imagine all of us mustering a little more grit to throw in the face of our enemies.

The brain of Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas killer, is apparently going to be studied at Stanford University to see if there are any clues as to why he shot down 58 country music concertgoers. I doubt they’ll find anything that makes sense of his senseless rampage – maybe, instead, his gray matter should be taken and hung out to dry in a public place for all to see and be reminded that there is nothing to be afraid of but lots of work to be done.

Published in the Portland Press Herald 11-05-17