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The Unthinkable has Arrived in Eugene

January 21st, 2022 by dk

Americans keep falling prey to the same thing, over and over, with increasing frequency. The tragedies and the dangers they represent are as varied as the people and forces that instigate them, but they can be summarized in a single word: unthinkable. And now the unthinkable has come to Eugene. We won’t be the same, and we shouldn’t hope to be.

On Friday night, a gunman shot six people outside the back door at the WOW Hall and fled on foot, heading west on 8th Avenue. Police responded almost immediately, arriving less than three minutes after gunshots were reported. Four fire crews, five ambulances and scores of first responders quickly swarmed the scene.

The gunman — a young man in a hoodie — has not been identified. The FBI has joined the investigation. All six gunshot victims are expected to recover, but the trauma from the scene ripples outward indefinitely. Shock protects us, but only momentarily.

Soon, the “what if” scenarios begin to take hold — those who visited the WOW Hall earlier or planned to attend an event there soon, those who live nearby or know some one who does, those who pass that corner regularly for whatever reason. It will affect all of us and it should. The unthinkable must now be considered.

Our nation has always had moments that we didn’t think were possible until they happened. Pearl Harbor, assassinations, impeachments, hostage crises, mass shootings. They seem to be coming more frequently, like birth pangs insisting that the current order cannot be sustained.

Each unthinkable tragedy startles the imagination. It jostles us, but will it awaken us?

Tragedies are meant to gather us as we grapple with the same sadness and fear. Or, operating alone, we circumscribe ourselves outside the current conditions. We insist it can’t happen to us, even if it just did. We draw circles smaller and tighter, excluding ourselves from the circumference of circumstance — safely on the edge of our imagined Venn diagram. The unthinkable cannot occur for (and to) me.

“It was a hip-hop concert and I never listen to that music. It was at the WOW Hall and I haven’t been there in years. The gunman shot at people who were smoking and I don’t smoke. It was a Friday night; I stay home on Friday nights.”

When the “we” is imperiled, the “me” seeks safety. It’s natural. Survival instincts kick in. Unattended, our individual attempts to cope with the trauma will separate us from others. Hypochondria or paranoia sometimes follow.

The healthy response is to feel the sadness, the grief, the fear, until it passes. (And it will.) We must recognize and acknowledge what was always true. We’re never totally safe. We don’t know what the next moment will bring. Our time here is short.

Things happen that we wish didn’t. We wish they couldn’t happen but they do. We care for the victims (I count the gunman among them), knowing that we’re all at risk in similar ways. The unthinkable requires something new from us. Each of us must find it, or it will find us.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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