Reverence and Resilience: Heartbreak in Isla Vista

Dateline: Santa Barbara, California.

By now, most of you have heard about the tragic shootings in Isla Vista, the beachside community adjacent to UCSB. A lone, deranged young man decided he would wreak revenge upon humanity, swearing he would, “slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up blonde slut” he found and the “obnoxious brutes” who were with them. To memorialize his plans, he posted a chilling YouTube video and composed a 140 page manifesto setting out his reasons for instigating such horrors. Having lived and worked very nearby, I am familiar with the area and watched the sheriff’s press briefings live on the Internet.


What happened in IV is awful beyond words and reminiscent of prior tragedies involving innocent life suddenly and inexplicably wiped away. And the fact that this senseless act occurred at the onset of Memorial Day Weekend, a time when we, as Americans, pause to revere the sacrifices of our war dead triggers complicated feelings about grief, loss, privacy and gun rights, mental illness, the limits of legislation to control an individual’s actions, regret, and resilience.


This last word is the most important of the series because the world–and life–moves forward, no matter what has befallen us. And thank goodness this is true. As searing as any loss a person or society has suffered, we need humanity to continue. So, having said this I’m setting up the resilience portion of this post.


Now comes the reverence. (Or lack thereof.)


What has haunted me most since learning about the events in Isla Vista came from a quote made immediately in the aftermath of the shootings. A local newspaper, The Santa Barbara Independent, published an article that stated, “One young man, Sam, who was sitting at Starbucks on Saturday morning, recollected that some people seemed clueless to the whole incident. Others said they ‘weren’t going to let it ruin their night.’” A second article quoted an on-site journalist reporting, “Some people are curious what the hell is going on, and others are cruising around with 18-packs.” In another, some students were observed “doing their homework” on nearby patios as law enforcement investigated. Reading these observations appalled me. The utter lack of empathy reflected in the statements or actions of those who couldn’t be bothered to pause or alter their behavior by murder and mayhem goes beyond any sort of thoughtless, shocked reactions of callow youth.


I’ve pondered a lot about how or why people could behave this way ever, let alone in the context of their fellow students and community. Where is the reverence for the lives lost and the peace shattered? I know individuals can say cold-blooded things without truly meaning to inflict harm or show such absolute disregard for the plight of others, but the quotes I mentioned above seem to me to surpass any such foolishness. When I reflect on these reports, all I feel is sadness that those people will have to live, for the rest of their lives, with the fact that they uttered such awful words and wonder if their actions accurately reflect a person so devoid of humanity. In the chaos of the aftermath, they simply couldn’t be bothered to get upset about the shootings that happened right there, where they could see and hear the suffering all around them. “How could you be like that?” I wonder. And, yes, I am judging.


It’s true that in the face of any tragedy, those who survive must continue with their lives, an important aspect of this process involves letting go of the emotional pain and shock those impacted feel. In order to find a clear way forward, the agonized must redefine their love and relationship to who or what has been lost. It is our moral obligation to continue living life. But moving on does not include casually roaming the streets of IV with packs of beer and offhand remarks about spoiled weekends. This is not resilience. There is no reverence in such behavior. This is something else, entirely.


So, while we pray and mourn and celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us—whether lost in war or something much closer to home—I urge you to include in your thoughts compassion for the unfeeling few who simply can’t be bothered.


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