We’re left to wonder, again

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 18, 2013

From the pictures, Monday was a sunny day in Washington, DC. Maybe there was a hint of fall in the air, an autumn blue to the sky.

As the day began, a man woke up in a Residence Inn somewhere southwest of the city. Perhaps he looked out the window as he put on his dark blue outfit.

I wonder if he noticed anything about his surroundings as he drove his rental car toward the Washington Navy Yard. Did anything, the blue sky, the sunshine, the sound of people, register with him as he used a security card to gain access to the yard?

As he approached a police officer, did he look into his eyes before raising a gun and shooting him to death? What thoughts ran through his head as shot innocent people who were doing what they probably did every morning, getting a bite of breakfast at the cafeteria in the building where they worked?

Was he angry as he shot round after round? Was he feeling fear when police shot back?

Those questions and many more will never have answers because that man, Aaron Alexis, died in the gun battle that took place after he started his killing rampage. Once again, those of us hearing about this tragedy ask why.

What we know is this 34-year-old man was deeply troubled. We know this because police have a record of him calling them in early August from a hotel room in Rhode Island. He said he heard voices in his closet. He told police he argued with three people at the airport and that they were following him.

Police found no evidence of anything Alexis claimed. What they found since Monday is a man who showed signs of deteriorating mental health over the last several years.

He was not in contact with his family, had a history of psychological problems, and a disciplinary record with the military that included insubordination and disorderly conduct.

As it always seems to be in these cases, people who knew him are shocked. They can’t imagine the man they knew could do something so horrible — but he did.

And so here we are again seeing the images of another mass shooting. This morning, the day after, there was not much chatter on Facebook about what happened in Washington. Maybe after the tragic shootings in recent years, we are out of words because we simply don’t know what to say — how to express what feels impossible to understand.

What I can express is that I don’t know, and I can’t imagine what pushes a person over the edge of sanity and causes him to think killing people is a solution to anything. I don’t know what I or anyone else can do to stop someone set on destruction.

But what I can do is live my life being the peace I wish to see in the world.

There is a line in a Mary Chapin Carpenter song that says “… to be seen we might be healed.” I can try to see, really “see,” those who come into my life, even if it is only a brief encounter. I can, in those moments, make an effort to be kind.

Those seem like small acts in the face of the huge suffering in our world, but small acts may well have an impact far beyond what we know. And, in the face of another tragic shooting, it offers me an opportunity to do something.

On a lovely Washington, DC morning, one man made a choice that ended lives including his own. What was he thinking when he opened his eyes and looked out on the day before him?

We don‘t know, but the words of one of the survivors of Monday‘s shooting spree echoes how we all feel about yet another tragedy.

“Today was hell; I didn’t wake up this morning to experience this.”