Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Listening To Tragedy

Yountville Veterans Home, California, USA

March 9, 2018

This essay, Listening To Tragedy, is the eighth in a group of eleven on Listening:

When she sat down in front of me, I moved my laptop and cellphone over to make room for her. "I'm sorry!" I smiled, "I'm all spread out here like I own  the place.". "No, it's OK" she said, sitting down ... and that's all she did: she sat down, then stared straight ahead - and it was only then that I really noticed the look on her face.

Photograph courtesy
State Department of Veterans Affairs
Yountville Veterans Home
It was a totally unnatural color. You could say it was waxen gray. Her eyes were bloodshot. She had been crying. Her lower jaw jutted forward - and even though this was the first time I'd laid eyes on her, I could tell it was an unnatural position for her. And she just ... sat ... there - like she was ... in shock?  Eventually I leaned forward and asked quietly "Ma'am? Are you alright?".

Slowly she told me what happened. A Vietnam vet  who suffered from PTSD  (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) was undergoing therapy with a group for which her granddaughter was a therapist. He wasn't winning  in therapy (euphemistically speaking). Angry at his therapists for what he perceived as their  failure, he showed up at a meeting dressed in black military fatigues and body armor, carrying an AK-47  assault rifle. He took her granddaughter and two other therapists hostage. He subsequently shot and killed all three of them, then shot himself dead.

I opened my mouth to say something. No, it was an automatic robotic reaction: my mouth opened by itself  to say something. So I shut it again. This was the time to ... just ... listen. My ego  did want to say something smart. But my being  calmly said "No, don't: just ... listen  ...".

The hurt, the shock, the anguish, the horror, the loss, the wrenching, the disbelief, the pain, the government, the N  ... R  ... A, the gun lobby. I wanted so much  to make it all better, to make it all go away. Yet I managed to keep my tongue still (Boy! it was hard ...) and just listened.

She cried intermittently, off and on - but not like she was sobbing: rather it was like she was gasping for air. She was (quite literally) drowning  in the tragedy of what had happened. I didn't have a kleenex  so I passed her a paper napkin from a rack on the table. She dabbed her eyes with it, threw her head back, and groaned softly, coming to terms with (I surmised) something which no human being should ever have to come to terms with. I had my own questions for her. I even had some answers to her  questions (or so I thought). Yet somehow I kept the proverbial sock firmly in place, and just kept on listening, listening, listening - for je ne sais quoi.

After about an hour, she exhaled loudly, actually smiled, and said "It doesn't make any sense!?"  (both as an assertion and as a question). "No it doesn't" I said, "You got that  right", speaking for the first time, then just as quickly shutting up again. "What's your name?" she asked me. "I'm Laurence" I said. She peered at me for about two minutes, scanning my face up and down, left and right (I admit I was mildly embarrassed). Then she nodded "Thank  you Laurence!", stood up, and left.

Later, when I myself stood up to leave and walked over to the cash register to pay for my iced coffee, the waitress told me (to my surprise) that my bill had already been paid: about a half an hour ago - by a well-dressed woman whose mascara was smudged as if she'd been crying.

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