WASHINGTON — The horror the horror.
The English language, expansive as it is, lacks sufficient vocabulary for the near-ceaseless popping sound of an automatic weapon pounding bullets into terrified people as they run away from and toward — the unknown.
How do you express the inconceivable, the imponderable? You try to put yourself there. What would you have done? Run, but to where? Seek cover, but under what? Help others, but how? Survival was all anyone could hope for. Then what?
Survivors now speak of feeling guilty that they’re alive while at least 59 others are not. Why were they alive? As reports of heroism flood in, they wonder: Did I do enough?
Brian Claypool, who spoke to CNN’s Chris Cuomo, is one of these. Tuesday was Claypool’s birthday, and the concert had been his way of celebrating. He had meant to return to his home and family in Los Angeles on Sunday, but gazing out upon the venue from his hotel room, he decided to stay another night.
“When am I ever going to be able to do this again?” he recalled saying to himself.
Struggling with tears, Claypool wondered whether he should have died. He was on the run when a man signaled for him to dash into a small room under some bleachers. Five or six young women were huddled, sobbing, in a corner. Instinctively, Claypool stood in front of them, perhaps to protect them. Or was he supposed to go outside where others were falling?
It seemed clear during the interview that Claypool was still in shock and trying hard to make sense of what had happened, discovering his thoughts and emotions as Cuomo prodded him to dig deeper. If there’s an Emmy for empathetic reporting and on-the-spot psychoanalytical investigation, Cuomo deserves it. Others watching CNN surely noted his remarkable ability to help his guests navigate the chaos of their personal trauma, offering words of solace and paternal wisdom.
Lisa Fine was another who tried to articulate what it was like to be suddenly transported from a happy evening of fellowship and fun to a nightmarish scrimmage in a war zone. She spoke of seeing people take a bullet and fall in front of her, of a truck loaded with bodies: “It was just the luck of the draw,” she said of her survival. “There are no words. It was horrific.”
From the relative comfort of one’s television-viewing perch, numbness begins to set in. We’ve seen this before, heard the commentary, witnessed the overwhelming grief. Columbine, Orlando, Blacksburg, Newtown, you know the list.
The Washington Post’s website offered headlines that were all too reminiscent of past tragedies elsewhere: “The lives lost in Las Vegas”; “Gunman was … known for keeping to himself”; “10 ways politics may — or may not — change after the Las Vegas shooting”; “‘I felt the gunfire would never stop.’”
Monday night, America went to bed shocked at the numbers. Twenty-two thousand revelers, 23 guns in the shooter’s hotel room, at least 59 dead, more than 500 injured. Tuesday morning, we checked the numbers again to see if they had changed. The names, faces and short biographies of the dead scrolled across television screens. They were slaughtered by the usual suspect — no one in particular.
He was “just a guy,” said the shooter’s stunned brother, Eric Paddock. Neighbors delivered their script: He seemed like a regular person. Normal, you know. A gun dealer who thought he may have sold Paddock some of his guns said he didn’t seem unfit or unstable.
But he was obviously something. A bad seed. Sick. Evil. Why had Paddock peered out of his 32nd-story hotel window and decided that this was the night he would kill as many people as possible? By chance alone, he would not kill Claypool or Fine — and they’ll live with that surreal, taunting reality the rest of their days.
“We get to live,” another survivor had said to Claypool when they chanced upon each other the next day. Yeah, Claypool said, we get to live. But why? To what end? For what purpose?
Such are the questions that have stumped humankind since first consciousness made life fathomless. A random bullet from an unseen stranger brings the unbearable mystery into sharp focus. Why me? Why not me? Why at all? In the absence of answers, faith and hope intercede and the search for meaning becomes a more-manageable quest for summation.
Lisa Fine, her face drawn from lack of sleep, reached through the numbness and offered the best one could: “Love your loved ones, and be the best person you can be. That’s all we’ve got.”
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.