What Is, Is

One of my favorite Zen sayings: For those who understand, what is, is. For those who do not understand, what is, is.

I’ve been writing an original blog post every day for the last three months, with very few exceptions. Yesterday was one of those exceptions as nothing I had been working on interested me while I waited with everyone else to try to make sense of the news from San Berdardino, California. Who would go on a killing spree in a county services conference room where one day earlier special needs children had sat on Santa’s lap?

WBonsai Tree. Light decoration. Zen Arte human beings want everything to make sense. But many things do not make sense. When something doesn’t, we search frantically to find a box to put it in. Boxing it relieves our anxiety. Unboxed phenomena cause panic. So last night we fought off panic by trying out various boxes. The Islamist terrorism box? The white supremacist terrorism box? The angry employee box? The all-purpose nut-case box? The TV news could tell us almost nothing reliable, but that didn’t stop broadcasters from filling what otherwise would have been what they call dead air.

An NBC correspondent arrives at what he describes as an apartment in nearby Redlands, California, that’s surrounded by police. The anchor asks if the correspondent can tell whether the apartment is a rental or a condominium. I guess that was to help us find the right box. It might give us a glimpse in the financial status of the possible suspects. In today’s news, by the way, it turns out to be a townhouse.

Today, we have a little more information, but it’s frustrating our efforts to fit the shooting into its box. This is from today’s New York Times:

The officials called the case perplexing, saying that no clear evidence of terrorism had emerged, though the attack was clearly premeditated. The victims were Mr. Farook’s co-workers at the county health department, and the shooting may have involved grievances against them, but it did not fit the mold for workplace violence, either.

Poor us! What will we do if we can’t categorize it? Author Teju Cole posted a poem yesterday called Live Update. It begins:

I think of those who died today.
They held views on the matter,
one way or the other,
of our awful American problem….

But, “They are dead now.” The rest of us hold views, too, some with great certainty. And we also may soon be dead. So what do out views matter?

I’ll admit to having a view about mass murderers. My view is that it’s a waste of time trying to find the right box to put them in. We can’t impose rationality on an irrational act, no matter how hard we try. The shootings were heartbreaking, but what is, is.

We still don’t know much about what led Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik (if it was them) to do what they did yesterday. If religion was a prime motivator, it was a twisted view of religion. If workplace grievance was a prime motivator, it was a twisted view of the workplace. If it was a combination of the two, or something else, that was twisted, too.

But there’s another element that shows up alongside twisted thinking in these sorts of killings, and that’s desperation. I don’t know where these shooters’ despair — or their twisted logic — came from. And I don’t know if any of us can do much about twisted thinking, but we can all help reduce the despair in the world.

Breathe. Smile. Act compassionately.

Copyright 2015 © Mel Harkrader Pine

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