Thoughts on the shooting in my home town

I wasn’t born there, but Thousand Oaks is my home town. I lived there over a decade, as a kid and a teen, before leaving to serve as a missionary in South America. I returned and spent a few more years there. It was the one place in California I really enjoyed being – a kind, happy place full of (generally) kind, happy people. In my later teens and early twenties, I would frequently rollerblade or ride my bike through the town at all hours of the night – I’ve never been a good sleeper, and would exercise sometimes at two or three in the morning. I never worried about being hurt or even bothered. It was a Safe Place. It was home.


Today it is a place not safe, a place in mourning. I have been to the Borderline Bar & Grill a few times – people went there for country and line dancing, and I had some friends play in bands there, and it was less than two miles from my house.


I am so happy that (so far at least) none of my friends was hurt. Selfish of me, I know, but there it is. I am so so so SO sad that so many others have friends who WERE hurt.


I think we live in a tremendous world. We live in an age where we have the power to call a friend who lives on the other side of the globe. We cure diseases that were death sentences a hundred years ago. We make machines that bring opportunity and entertainment to people everywhere. We live in a world of brightness and infinite possibility.


But there is darkness, too. I don’t know what happened – what set off the shooter, what “motives” there were, what happened leading up to the event that cost a dozen people their lives. And even when the reasons come out, I suppose I STILL won’t know what happened. Things like this never make sense to me.


People everywhere are going to glom onto this event as an excuse to push agendas. I’m no different. So here’s mine:


Pay attention.


Nope, that wasn’t the wind-up, that was the pitch itself.


PAY. ATTENTION.


There are dangers out there. Pay attention, and do your best to avoid them.


There are people who need help in danger, as with one girl I heard interviewed who fell down and cowered on the floor until a stranger yanked her to her feet and dragged her to safety. Pay attention for opportunities to help someone like that.


Pay attention before the danger comes, too. Stopping it before it happens is always better than hoping it misses you. So many people in this “connected” world of ours feel disaffected, rudderless. That kind of feeling turns to fear, and fear in humans almost always manifests itself as anger, sooner or later.

Watch for the fearful. Pay attention. I’m not saying that everyone can be helped, or that kindness will cure all evil. But I AM sure that if we spent a little less time screaming about how awful [INSERT POLITICAL PARTY/IDEOLOGY/BELIEF SYSTEM/RACE/AFFILIATION OF YOUR CHOICE] is and a little more time looking for opportunities to ask how someone’s doing, and actually give a damn what the answer is, there’d be a lot less rage in the world.


Love doesn’t cure all evils, because evil DOES exist – and it exists to rend and destroy what’s beautiful. That’s its nature.


But fomenting a culture of anger, where people are either “my people” or “that idiot/scumbag/ignorant fool” is psychotic.


Pay attention.


I’m not giving excuses for the shooter – though I fear someone will read that into this little message. All I’m saying is that events like what happened in Thousand Oaks are happening too much. We’re doing something wrong, when things like this happen. And when they happen often, it’s a sign that things have to change on a large scale.


Change isn’t brought about in congressional votes, or presidential edicts. Change doesn’t happen with new legislation. Those things are results at best, and more often are just side effects.


Change happens when we wake up in the morning, when we see the first person of our day and make a choice to engage or to ignore; to condescend or to seek to understand. Change occurs when we reach out to someone and try to REALLY UNDERSTAND what they’re thinking – or when we “listen” to them only so we can find the first “stupid/rotten/ignorant/evil” thing they say and then we pounce on it in the knowledge that doing so will “cure” them.


Change happens when we hear someone we disagree with, and try to understand why they think those things, rather than barreling in with both barrels loaded and ready to fire our “better” understanding.
I am glad my friends and family are okay.


I grieve for the people with friends and family who were killed, and for those dead themselves.


Today I will try to smile a bit more. I will try to listen to people instead of just waiting for them to pause so I can say MY Very Important Thing. Today I will hug my family tight, and remind my children that there are dangers out there… which means they should be careful, and that they should do what they can to be such bright and kind and wonderful people that they inspire the universe to be a brighter and kinder and more wonderful place.

My heart, prayers, and tears go out to you in Thousand Oaks. Things like what happened last night should not happen. Ever. And I recognize that I can’t stop them. But I can do my best to make sure that everyone I meet – EVERYONE – knows I appreciate them as a human, and as a thing of inestimable value. Whether I agree with you or not (and I disagree with my wife/best friend all the time, so I have no doubt you and I will disagree about Big Important Things as well), please know that I appreciate you in my life, and please know – if ever your days are dark – that the way to conquer that darkness is not to make others join you in that darkness, but to find it in ourselves to make more light.

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