Trying to take on the enormity of the Las Vegas shooting emotionally is a daunting task. Much that has been revealed to the public that should discourage even the brightest optimist. An apparently average guy, sixty-four-year-old Stephen Paddock spent eleven months building up a stockpile of thirty-three firearms while secretly planning to unleash a hailstorm of bullets upon thousands of innocent people. He had no history of mental illness and no criminal record. No connections to extremist groups have been made, and his motive is still unknown. Naturally, we’d all like to know what drove a fairly standard (on paper) man to commit such a heinous act. It would be easier to comprehend if there was a clear link to ISIS or Al-Qaeda if we could chalk it up to yet another radicalized individual performing the act of an outside evil force. But it is looking more and more likely that we are not going to be granted that luxury. Maybe he really was just a common guy, and if that’s the case, it is more than a little fair to feel shaken right to your core.
One of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism is “dukkha” which roughly translates to, “life is suffering.” It sounds cynical, but with brief introspection it is self-evident. We go through constant pain during our lives. Everyone we know and love is going to die, and some of them will go sooner and more painfully than they deserve. Tragedies like the one in Las Vegas are unfortunately not all that uncommon, and as we’re learning, there is not always a distinct reason for them. Some people simply let their lives spiral so far down the rabbit hole of misery and contempt that the only way to cope is to unleash their hatred of being itself on the most innocent among them.
So what then? If life is suffering, what’s the point? Why should one even bother slaving away for their entire sorry time on this Earth just to slowly be cut down by the malevolence of life? Is the only valid option to fade into the shadowy depths of nihilism and reject all meaning? Well, obviously not. Dr. Jordan Peterson, professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, once said, “Want to know the definition of a meaningful life? Everything you do matters.” This resonates because the times we feel most important are the times that we are relied on when others need us. So, our only choice moving forward is to be there for others in the face of all that life throws at us.
Unfortunately, our measly contributions often feel like very little against horrors of events like Las Vegas. But what needs to be taken from this act moving forward is not the evil concoction that Stephen Paddock had been brewing for eleven months, it’s the valiant efforts by people like Dean McAuley in the blink of an eye. McAuley is a firefighter from Seattle who attends that particular country music festival every year. When the gunfire began and the crowd was dispersing in a desperate furor, a police officer called to McAuley and his two friends to follow him to safety. He shook his head and replied, “‘I’ve got to go to work.” He then ran back into the crowd, avoiding the still present onslaught of bullets, and brought two women to the closest medical tent. McAuley gave them immediate medical attention, and all three made it through the ordeal unscathed.
Stories like the one of Dean McAuley’s heroism have been documented by numerous people involved in the Las Vegas shooting. While the flame of humanity at that concert was threatening to be extinguished by one evil man, dozens of people risked their lives to keep it burning. It is with them that we find our silver lining. In the midst of immense suffering, they took on the worst part of the human soul willingly and faced it down. Stephen Paddock took the lives of fifty-eight people from their family and friends, and they can never be brought back. We cannot do anything about that, but what we can do is look to those around us and be their rock, just like Dean McAuley. If we do it will show that Stephen Paddock, despite carrying out his wicked plan, did not win.