An Open Letter to the Next Mass Shooter

Hey. I know you’re out there. After this many mass shootings it would be foolish to imagine you’re not, that the UCC shooter will be the last guy on earth who picks up a gun and thinks about how it would feel to point it at the people around him and fire. Does it feel scary? I hope it feels at least a little scary, wielding that much destruction in one hand. The idea of it definitely scares me.

I bet your life sucks right now. I don’t want to make assumptions, I know that’s not helpful, but I remember my late teens and early twenties and they were not good times. I remember feeling like an alien on my own planet. You never know the right things to say and your body still feels like it could betray you at any second. Some of the stupidest, most hurtful things I’ve ever done in my life I did during that time.

I’ve never shot anyone or even held a gun but I remember all too clearly a moment when I got way too close to physically harming someone, the adrenaline coursing through my body, the blood rushing sound in my ears, the way everything in that moment felt explosive and focused at the same time as if this one second was the big bang all over again, the beginning and ending of everything at once. I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me at the time, but that feeling passed. They all do, eventually.

Everything shitty you’re feeling right now (and, frankly, I’m feeling right now and the nation is feeling right now) will pass into another feeling and then another and then another. Nothing in this world is permanent. Not our feelings, not the shitty things we do to each other, not the shame we think we will carry with us until the end of time. There will be a day in your not so distant future when you will look back on how you feel in this moment and realize that’s not who you are anymore. You will be amazed that you ever had this much capacity to feel angry or sad and you will be grateful that, for all the crazy or hurtful or regrettable shit you did when you felt like this, you got yourself through it.

What’s your family like? Do you have at least one person who listens in your life right now? Maybe you don’t. Maybe everyone around you is terrible and understands nothing and that makes you feel freakish and low and really fucking alone. I know this feeling too. And I know what it feels like to have everyone and their grandmother telling you to “talk to somebody” and how that feels so incredibly empty and futile because maybe once or twice you have tried but no one really gets it but you.

I’ve read a lot today about the UCC shooting. I wonder what you think about it. Do you think the shooter got what he wanted? The world hates him right now. We will always remember him as a total monster who killed people. There is no taking that back. Do you think there was a moment before he stepped into that classroom and opened fire that he felt scared? Or unsure? We’ve all done shit we wish we could take back. But he can’t. Almost anything terrible in the world that someone does can be atoned for, can be righted in some way. Death can’t. Once it’s done, it’s done. You can’t fix it. He can’t fix it. We can’t fix it. And I think that is the saddest thing of all of this, of every time we do something violent to another person. It doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t fix anything. It just makes things worse, for the victims, for their families, for the shooter himself.   For all of us.

I have a hard truth for you. Are you ready? Here it is. The purpose of life, the real meaning of whatever the hell we’re doing here, it’s mostly about other people. We are creatures who thrive on community. Yes, even the introverts. We need each other. No matter how much we dig solitude, we need to be connected to other people in order to survive. It is our job as humans to take care of one another. And, look, if you are in a shitty situation where everyone around you sucks and doesn’t listen and doesn’t understand anyway, it is your job as a human to go out there and find the people who will have your back. It is your job to try to talk to them, to help them understand you. It is your job to let them talk to you, to have their backs as well.

If you want to live a life that matters — and I’m only guessing that you do because so many mass shooters seem interested in finally having a voice — if you really want your life to matter, the absolutely easiest way, easier even than shooting a gun, is to help somebody else. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. You don’t have to cure cancer or write a best selling self-help book or solve world hunger. Just do something for somebody. Doesn’t even have to be somebody you know, because, as we’ve established, they’re probably all jerks anyway. Try doing something to help out a stranger. I don’t know, hold a door open for someone loaded down with groceries. It seems like nothing but it is not nothing. Helping other people is a tool for survival. It gives us something good to think about when we feel like shit. Every little instance of helping someone else out changes us in a microscopic way. A good way.

I wish I could save you from what you’re feeling right now. I can’t. You can, though. You can have that moment five or ten or fifteen years in the future when you look back on all this and realize you pulled yourself out of a really shitty place. You can have that moment tomorrow when you realize you have what it takes to try to talk to somebody again. You can find your people. I promise we’re out here.

With luck and love,

The rest of us

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