Life is horribly random. We have so little control over the majority of the events that happen to us. The Tony Robbins-types of the world want and need us to believe that we can master our destiny, and to a point that is true. But really it’s our attitude about the events that happen to us that we truly have control over, not the actual events.
This past weekend a genuine American hero was shot and killed in Texas. Chris Kyle was the Navy Seal with the greatest sniper record. He was an author, husband, father and by all accounts that I could find a great guy who was trying to help other vets as they returned from combat and reintegrated into society. He was helping another vet at a gun range and something went wrong. All the facts are not available yet, but the one fact that is certain is that a man who did great service for our country was killed needlessly. It’s fair to say that he was in the right place at the wrong time. I don’t know why his companion vet killed him. I do know it’s a tragedy.
“Pedestrian killed by car” is an occasional headline we see in Santa Monica. We have a great many pedestrians, whether residents or tourists. Occasionally they are looking the wrong direction, and thinking it is clear step into an oncoming car. I’ve had it happen to me more than once. On the other hand, I’ve been the pedestrian and checked to see that the street sign says I have the right of way, and as I proceed into the crosswalk an oncoming car doesn’t stop. Right place, wrong time.
Most of us watched the Super Bowl and saw missed balls. The quarterback knows where he wants to throw the ball, the receiver knows where he’s supposed to be to catch the ball, and yet the two don’t always align correctly. A missed throw in the first quarter leads to a turnover that leads to a scoring run by the other side and then — bam — the game is lost. The randomness of being in the right place at the wrong time is what makes a game exciting and keeps us on the edge of our seats watching.
The randomness is also what makes some people so frustrated. Watching a game, it’s easy to see what needs to happen. Making it happen is a whole other prospect. The frustration and angst of a lost game is frankly part of the experience. Some days your team wins and some days they lose. It’s only a game in the end, a form of live theater if you will, so it’s enjoyable to let ourselves get all amped up over whether my team or your team won or lost.
We can learn a lot from the principle that a game is fun and real life is to be taken seriously. When a player muffs a catch we can get all upset, and let it pass in a moment, but when a person is killed by the thoughtless or needless actions of another it is harder to see it in the grand scheme of things. But we need to have a proportional recognition of what happened.
The reason why I say we need a proportional recognition is that it is too easy to get stuck in the emotional loss of the moment and “take action” to make sure “it never happens again.” This is the kind of reaction that leads to over-regulation of our lives and it is born out of the loss of others and their pain.
I know losing someone is painful. I’ve lost people in my life to drugs, alcohol, suicide and accidents. In the movie “Torch Song Trilogy,” at one point Anne Bancroft turns to Harvey Fierstein and says that the loss becomes like a ring you wear, you get used to it, and after awhile it feels funny to not have it. As the pain of loss changes from a sharp attack to a dull ache, to a remembrance, hopefully we calm down and don’t need to pass a law to alleviate our pain.
The reason for me is that this is all part of life. It’s a random experience and we can control only our reactions to it. We cannot prevent life from throwing us curve balls.
It is tempting when someone dies from an accident or something that seems to be preventable to want to “make a law” and prevent that tragedy from “ever happening again.” But we can’t prevent life from happening. Which means we can’t prevent death from happening.
We each have to do the best we can to be in the right place at the right time, and avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but there’s no way of knowing until after the fact if we’ve been successful.
My condolences go out to the Kyle family for their loss. Chris Kyle was clearly doing what he loved, and trying to help someone else. He will be remembered and missed, I’m sure.
David Pisarra is a divorce and child custody lawyer specializing in father’s and men’s rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra