On Monday afternoon, my daughter and I went to the airport to collect dear friends arriving for the week. As far as airports go, the Missoula airport is a quaint, quiet affair. Before 9/11, my husband and I used to park our Subaru at the curb and leash our dog to the flagpole on our way to get visitors. Now a little more formality is required, but still the biggest thing about the Missoula airport is the taxidermied black bear rearing on its hind legs in the arrivals lounge.
This Monday, as Birtie and I found a place to stand in the loosely clumped strangers awaiting friends and family members, I noticed TV cameras and members of the press taking interviews. A quick look at the arrivals board put the pieces together. The flight that had just landed was from Las Vegas.
A reporter from the local paper spoke to a couple just in front of me. The couple held each other tightly. “We thought there were two shooters,” I heard the woman tell the reporter. “It was chaos.” She thumbed away a tear.
Birtie pulled at my hand. “Why are they sad?” It’s hard to know what to tell your six-year-old about a mass shooting, about these periodic and appalling ruptures to the incredible safety in which we are blessed to live, about the rank and frankly, bewildering, parts of human nature.
“They were at an event where some people died,” I said truthfully but not completely. Fortunately, for once my inquisitive daughter didn’t have a follow up question and just a few moments later our friends’ Seattle flight arrived and, in a welter of hugs and joy and luggage, we bundled them off into the blustery Missoula afternoon.
The next day I sought out the Missoulian. On the front page was a photo of the people I had seen tearfully holding each other in arrivals. When the shooting began, they had managed to get their wheelchair-bound son to safety, before returning to help administer first aid and load people in cars and ambulances.
Like so many of you, I’m sure, I don’t know what to do with this past week’s news. I feel a raft of emotions. Along with hefty sadness and anger, I find myself deep in bewilderment. I know I’m not alone. The New York Times lead headline currently reads, “No Manifesto, No Phone Calls: Killer Left Only Cryptic Clues.”
I’ve been curious about how much we humans seem to need a motive. We crave a storyline to help mitigate the psychic cost of such an event. Mental illness. Radicalization. At the very least we expect a change in life circumstances of the perpetrator. We want a reason to hang our hats and hearts on.
These past few days, I’ve been trying to hold myself in this space of unknowing. To notice how much a desire for a reason, is for me, a desire to bring order out of chaos, to stitch over a rent in the world. Reasons are false bottoms. For those of us not personally affected by this tragedy, reasons allow us to complete the narrative, close the book, look away. They paper over the wrenching loss and instability that fracture this world. Right now, I’m sitting with a deep and honest bewilderment, a tear I don’t want to seam over, a troubled story without an end.