The ongoing awfulness that constitutes last week’s shooting inside the Cobb Theatres Grove 16 multiplex in Wesley Chapel defies overstatement. One man in the prime of life is dead, stranding a young widow and a 3-year-old daughter in an ocean of grief. Another man has, in the frenzy of an avoidable confrontation, torched his decorated past while making his future freedom an unlikely prospect. Someone else will coach Chad Oulson’s daughter’s youth softball team, will cheer from the audience when she receives her high school diploma, will escort her down the aisle to her future husband, will arrive with flowers and tears when her own children are born. And even if the stand-ins prove worthy of the “Hallmark Hall of Fame,” the little girl who even now can’t possibly grasp why Daddy isn’t coming home will spend her years under a cloud of failed expectations. Of course, the other man made his choices, and no matter what comes out of the legal process, he will have to endure the consequences. But, assuming they ignored plain warning signs, his loved ones didn’t ask to be snared in the Curtis Reeves Jr. vortex, and their grief is as real as that of the Family Oulson.
Given such a storm cloud, identifying even the faintest hint of a silver lining staggers the imagination. Here’s what I think it might be: We’re talking — at the dinner table, at work, over the back fence, in blogs and social media comment posts — about how the explosiveness inside Theater 10 might have been defused. We’re talking about how others have demonstrated rudeness around us, the coarsening of the culture, the spread of bullying even as bullying is universally decried, proportional responses and, of course, the responsible application of firearms to perceived physical threats. The emerging theme of these discussions suggests we’re thinking in proactive terms. We’re past our initial shock; we’re thinking about what we would do in similar situations. Almost invariably, anyone who has suffered the sudden, stupid loss of someone precious navigates through the Land of If Only: If only I’d done this. If only I’d done that. If only I’d been earlier or later. If only I’d said this. If only I’d kept my mouth shut. The permutations are endless. Outside the grim confines of the Oulson-Reeves Venn diagram, it’s a different world. We’re not locked into some fruitless could-have/would-have/should- have cycle. Not only are we free to deplore how things escalated Monday before last and condemn their outcome, we can apply our newfound wisdom to the next time we’re parties or witnesses to other episodes of social discord. We probably should be more respectful of announcements about shutting down cellphones, for openers. Keeping legally carried guns tucked away in the absence of a deadly threat makes sense, too. Those are two things we can do. Here’s another: Maybe if we’re nearby when someone’s obvious rudeness is pointed out, gently joining the approbation might produce a better outcome than looking the other way. Peer pressure has its benefits, after all. I don’t care what version of “judge not” you grew up with, not all forms of conduct are equal. And I’m not asking anyone to get in the middle of a bar fight. But while we’ll never know how things would have gone if someone nearby had chipped in early on Reeves’ side, or if someone had offered to switch seats, we do know what happened when otherwise perfectly good people tried to pretend nothing awful was going on.