Friday, April 26, 2013

Double-you: W. Today's Letter is W. That stands for WHY


There are words, simple words, we can use to torture each other with.  This is one of them.  This is a verbal cat-o-nine-tails, it's an academic hair-shirt, it's a philosophical fucking thumbscrew.  And we all use it.

And I think that we all hate it.  But don't worry if you don't hate it, I hate it plenty enough for all of us.

Because, usually, there is no answer to "WHY".
And when there is an answer, it almost never matters.

To wit:

He goes jogging.  He's healthy.  He's happy and handsome and strong as an ox.  
He goes missing.  He is lost. His body is found a half mile behind the high school, bloodied and savagely shredded.  The mountain lion that killed him is still lingering over her kill.

"Why" is not really a question we get to ask, there.  Yet we do.  We persist.  We learn he was unlucky and the lion was sick and "things just happen".

She is travelling.  She's on her own for the first time in her life and finally starting to feel the strength of her own wingbeats beneath her.  She's smart.  She's safe.  She locks her door and keeps her cellphone handy.  She eats a healthy lunch and drinks the healthiest beverages.  She takes her vitamins and wears her sunscreen.  She is carrying a small tumor in her body that she doesn't know about.  She won't find out until the squamous activity has spread to her lymph nodes.  She's going to die painfully after she gets back home. 

"Why" doesn't apply, but we grip it tightly anyway.  Our hearts ache and we weep and we scream and we strike ourselves with "why" over and over again.  Answers like "god's will" just make the maker seem like a heartless and wicked monster.  Answers like "should have eaten more flax" make it seem like it's her fault...  or her family's fault...  or her bread-maker's fault.

She goes to school.  Three adults who graduated from the same school decide to set off pipe bombs in the lunch room.  She is killed in the blast.

He goes to work.  Someone flies an airplane into the office he was helping clean up after a birthday party.  He dies.

He is driving to the home of his mother in law with the things she needed from the supermarket.  He is shot to death at a stoplight.

She is walking home from a late volleyball game.  She is abducted, raped, tortured, murdered and left for dead in a ditch seven zipcodes away from home.

He dies at the age of four in a crate meant for dogs and his little emaciated body isn't found for weeks until the cops finally get into the basement.

Need I go on?

WHY.  It's a word with a finger on it.  And that finger looks for someone to point to.  WHY needs it to be someone's fault.  Because, like idiots, we think that as soon as we know who's fault it is, we can cut them out like a rotting wound and move on with our merry lives and never have to worry about it.

Why did Columbine happen?  Does it matter?  Really?  Why did Sandy Hook happen?  Think hard about that question and your immediate answer to it.  Knowing WHY a thing happens doesn't really fix the problem.  Does it?  "He was mad at his mom."  "He was off his medicine."  "She didn't love her husband anymore and needed to feel alive."  "She couldn't take her alcohol."  "He wanted revenge."  "God has a plan."

None of the answers to "WHY", not a single blessed one of them, will ever ever ever give us a rope that helps us climb out of the hole we're in.  Knowing "WHY", or some semblance thereof, cures nothing.

Knowing HOW can cure everything.

Why did X get cancer?    versus    HOW did X get cancer?
Why did X kill so many people?   versus    HOW did X kill so many people?

Why did X do Y?    verusus   HOW did Y come about for X?

When we dismantle the events at hand and look for answers to HOW, we can find solutions that are not only workable but actually help to arm us against future tragedies and the intolerable sadness and grief they bring with them.

I am not, as you can see by now, a girl who stood in my living room watching my television spill out Boston's grizzly details while thinking "Why on earth would someone do that?  I wish I knew why."

I do not care to know.  Evil, at that level, is not supposed to make sense to me.  I'm glad I don't know or understand WHY.  The day I 'get it' about why a mother would murder her whole family in an afternoon, about why a man murders another man over lawn chores, about why a driver accelerates into a pedestrian and drives away... that's a day I belong in a small windowless room about six feet underground.

What I am looking for is how.  How did the shooting happen/take place/become a decision that someone would make.  How did the bombing happen, how did we get to a place where someone thinks that it's okay to do a thing like this?  How that knife get there?  How did this go so far for so long?

How can we reach out to people who are on the cusp of these very same decisions (and there are many).  How can we interrupt these decisions and forego the need to clean up another blood-soaked sidewalk or lunchroom or library or sports event...

And yes, I know, taking guns away from everyone is not the solution.  I know that because "Guns" is not something that comes up within the confines of those "how".  It's part of the what.  WHATs can be replaced with other WHATs.  Knives for guns, bombs for vehicles, gas for fire...  "what" only matters after we know "how".  And "how" only gets fixed after we stop thrashing ourselves with unanswerable questions that are not ours to ask.

My next challenge to you, my happy little minions and my sneaky little stalkers, is the next time you see a news item that shakes you to your core...  Banish "Why" from your mind completely and start with HOW.

How is a question that has answers.

WHY is something for the Gods.
And...  for only the bravest of authors.

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