Roger Marolt: Roger This | AspenTimes.com

Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

We believe there were ways to stop the horrific tragedy that occurred in the Aurora theater last week. Outlaw guns. Search all people entering movie theaters like we do in airports. Abolish movies. Nobody really knows the answer, but whatever it is, we have to do it now, and it has to be big. Turn on a television, browse the Internet, or pick up a paper. You will see what I mean.

In this age of instant gratification and super-sized everything, we expect and are expected to respond quickly, decisively and obviously to tragedy. Throw money at it. Throw manpower at it. It is what we used to expect only in instances of imminent threat by an identifiable enemy. Now we demand that the patterns of our lives be permanently and, oftentimes, inconveniently altered to ward off the rare, deranged individual who can perhaps be kept out of theaters but who will then kill in the park instead.

Looking at pictures of James Holmes’ face, who doesn’t wonder what went wrong? More important, what could have been done to prevent it? It’s why we are interested in stories about his childhood, his parents, his teachers, his neighbors, acquaintances and friends. We’re searching for patterns, looking for anomalies. We want clues as to where it all began to unravel. We want to know the cause so we can stop it from happening again. We are searching for telltale signs after the fact. We know it has to be complex.

At the same time, whose mind hasn’t it crossed that maybe if someone had shown Holmes a bit of kindness in crossing his path on the way to the theater that night, perhaps it might have changed things? Most likely his mind was too far gone at that point to alter its evil intent. But what about if a stranger smiled and offered a “hello” in passing the day before? What about when he was 12? How about if it happened every day from the time he was born? Of course we can’t know if any of this would have made a difference, but I’d say that the upside potential was good.

Maybe the small and simple things in everyday life matter. Rather than using them, though, we might have become a society of individuals so disconnected from the feelings of those immediately around us that we are more willing to rely on the cost and inconveniences of implementing systems and institutions to protect us from those pushed so far toward the extremes of seclusion that they become dangerous than to simply give them the time of day once in a while so that we recognize one another as human.

Is it possible that we have become so consumed with making an impact in our culture that we have lost sight of getting the details right? I’m afraid it is the theme of the recurring interactive prayer of my adult life: Please, dear Lord, help me to discover the purpose of my life, what you put me here for, how I can make the world a better place.

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Wait, you mean it’s just to be the best father, the most loving husband and the kindest friend I can be? To treat others nicely? To simply acknowledge other people’s sufferings?

Ha, ha! Wait, you’re serious. That’s it? Really? Nothing about saving lives or curing the sick? A small to medium-size discovery of some sort? Something that involves a little overseas travel? Who’s even going to notice that other stuff?

Hmmm. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot and rush you into a snap decision. I’m not going to hold you to this. Why don’t you think about it for a while. I’ll check back after you’ve had time to mull it over.

Amen.

Of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with doing the big things, writing large checks or putting in a ton of time for the good cause of choice. Those things help in obvious ways. But it might be a problem if it causes us to overlook the zillions of little opportunities for kindness right in front of us or gives us an excuse to ignore them. It’s like trampling the tulips while surveying the entire backyard, figuring out ways to make it greener.

The business of writing opinion columns puts me in danger of missing these little things. In front of a keyboard and screen, it is easy to forget the human angle in what I write about and go straight for the rips and digs. “Just doing my job” is the acceptable excuse, and I use it too liberally. If I choose not to “go after” somebody, no one will know. I should do it more often anyway.