Kelley Paul had gone to bed Tuesday night as usual, with her cellphone set on “Do Not Disturb,” except for family and close friends whose calls would always go through.
That’s why, when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tried to reach his wife early Wednesday morning using a borrowed phone, the call went straight to voicemail. Paul had left his own phone in the baseball dugout he had abandoned when the shooting began.
It was after a neighbor started banging on the front door of the Pauls’ Louisville home that Kelley learned of the rampage at the Alexandria, Va., baseball diamond where her husband and others were practicing for the annual congressional game between Republicans and Democrats.
On this particular day, the gunman was hunting Republicans.
In an email exchange with Kelley, a friend since last year’s presidential campaign, she told me of waking up to the sound of loud knocking — the shooting took place shortly after 7 a.m. — and finding her best friend at the door. Fearful that Kelley might read or hear the news through some form of media, the neighbor had rushed over to be by her side.
“Thank God, because my first three texts were along the lines of, ‘Is Rand OK??’ ” said Kelley in an email. “I would have flipped out.”
Such moments, doubtless, were taking place all over the country as family and friends wondered if their representative, senator, loved ones or friends had been in the line of fire. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who remained in critical condition Friday, was near second base fielding grounders when he was hit. Most are familiar by now with the details, especially the acts of heroism by Capitol Police officers who were attached to Scalise. Paul noted in retrospect that the event might have been a massacre had it not been for Scalise’s security detail, who fired back at the shooter.
And, yet, in some wretched irony, it was Scalise who absorbed the worst of the gunman’s rage when a single bullet pierced his hip, shattering bones and ripping through organs, leaving the congressman fighting for his life.
Perhaps because I know Scalise, this particular horror hit hard. Kelley and I shared our emotional exhaustion and sorrow, as well as fear. It isn’t only the terrible suffering of Scalise or the others wounded that day. It’s the cumulative effect of so much violence pounding us from all directions, day after day.
What is the tipping point for the human psyche, when too many becomes too much? For a lot of us, the psychological trauma began with the blunt force of 9/11. From then, humanity’s death spiral has seemed unrelenting. From the first beheading by the Islamic State to the mock severed head of President Trump, a malevolent spirit seems to have penetrated the air we breathe.
Yet, we defend our great nation as the best there is. This is certainly true if you happen to be a Syrian refugee or a survivor of slaughter in South Sudan. But is this really the best we can do?
I’m not much interested in debating gun control or assigning blame. The media didn’t open fire on that baseball field, nor did Trump. Some horrible guy did. He was apparently political, based on his social-media ramblings against Republicans. But it’s highly doubtful that he was reacting to some random act of punditry or a presidential tweet, maddening though they can be.
More likely, he found the impetus to act out his narcissistic rage in the same interior space that other mass murderers mine for imagined meaning. Do we need a kinder, gentler nation, as President George H.W. Bush put it way back in the relatively innocent 1980s? Yes, we do.
We can’t un-crazy crazy, but we can each try to stem the madness. It begins with simply caring: By looking up from our cellphones and making eye contact; by asking the checkout girl about her day; thanking the garbage collector; doing favors without a scorecard; giving away money because someone needs it more.
Sometimes a small gesture of kindness can change someone’s day — or life. If the cumulative effect of evil acts brings us down, might not the cumulative effect of good deeds lift us up? Madmen likely won’t abandon history anytime soon, but the least the rest of us can do is better — for Team Scalise and for America.
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