Thoughts and Prayers Are Useless

First off, because a few of you are concerned: I am safe and okay.

These have been hard days here in Thousand Oaks.

Last Wednesday night an ex-Marine murdered over a dozen people at the Borderline, a popular country music spot.

Thoughts and prayers are useless. They don’t stop bullets, and they never will.

The terrorist employed his military training just as I was returning from one of Misha’s concerts at UCLA.

I’ve only been to the Borderline once or twice but I can visualize the layout, the way the killer first encountered the bouncer, then turned right to the box office, then entered the club. I can see those big glass windows, and remember thinking how they made me uncomfortable, trapped, vulnerable, because they didn’t open and in a thick crowd it was hard to get around.

When I heard the next morning about the shooting (from several text messages sent overnight while my phone was silent) I checked with the people I know who often go to the club, and they were all safe, nor did I recognize any of the victims from my class rosters.

However, I learned last night that the friend of an improv buddy was killed while helping others escape. His funeral is Saturday.

And then the fires came.

Even as our faculty and leadership were planning memorials, vigils, and healing sessions for the students while still reeling themselves, the Hill fire erupted to the west, shutting down our roads to Camarillo and Ventura, including the back road past Cal State Channel Islands.

Almost as quickly the Woolsey fire blazed to the east, shutting down the main arteries towards L.A. including US-101 and Pacific Coast Highway.

Two of the many houses in Malibu that burned to the ground belonged to friends of mine. Both homes were full of memories, some old, some quite new (the recent birth of a child). In both cases they were able to escape safely, but everything else was lost.

My house was about two miles from the evacuation zone and three miles from the shooting. With some reservation, but with a desperate need for normalcy as well, I left town on Friday. I had a commitment at the race track.

I drove the truck because it holds more stuff, but I didn’t pack up everything like I did for the Thomas fire. I was fairly confident that I was far enough inland to be safe—though you can never be sure—but more importantly, all these murders of our children, our friends and family have made me realize the transitory nature of all things. My house is full of stuff—music, racing gear, technical items for my classes—but mostly it’s full of memories, good and bad.

In the context of this page it’s filled with memories of Patrick—his writings, a couple of undershirts, the ring Gretchen gave him, and more. It would be hard to lose these things, but I remind myself that these are All. Just. Things.

The memories are lodged safely in my heart, my mind. His legacy is not the drawings on the wall, the recordings on my computer, or the words on the page, but the impact he made on others all around the world.

Nothing in this world is permanent, not the ancient monuments of Palmyra, or dodos or passenger pigeons, or the lives of loved ones. Everything is transitory.

And yet, here I am still standing, still safe, still attached to things, and thankful for my good fortune.

I can’t tell if I’m sad about the world at large, the horrors of our current leadership, the way we attack and demonize those who are most vulnerable; or if I am feeling survivor guilt, knowing I had the luxury of being at a track surrounded by 100 racing Porsches while the houses of my friends burned; or is it that my situation, my comfort, earned from decades of hard work with a bit of good luck thrown in, has somewhat muted the raw desperation I should feel for those less fortunate than me, a desperation I recall from my youth but with memory dimmed by time.

I didn’t mean to write so much. My goal was to say that I’m safe and my community will recover. We must all continue to live our lives while we work and hope for a better, brighter, more loving future—for our kids and the kids of others different from ourselves.

Don’t send thoughts and prayers, for they are useless. Do something real instead.