Monday, December 17, 2012

It Wasn't Our World Anymore

              "It wasn't our world anymore. They made it theirs"

When confronted with horrible events, many of us turn to quotes from literature, poetry, or other reading to help us express our reaction. The line above has been running through my mind since the events of Friday in Newtown.

The horror the responders must have found, 20 small bodies lying in blood, must have seemed like a scene from anther world; as if a pustule of hell had erupted in this school. The line is from Prophecy Girl, an episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Willow has walked in on a scene of blood and death in a schoolroom where vampires have had fun and tries to explain it.

That scene is fiction, a metaphor, a writer's attempt to sum up the shock and horror a character might experience in such a situation. It is doubtful the writer ever expected to hear of a similar scene in real life; yet here it is.

Many people are struggling to understand this horror. I am here to say tat there is no understanding. There is no sense to be made. There may be things to be learned, perhaps deductions to be made, but there is no sense because there are no reasons.

There has been a lot of talk about gun control in this case. This is senseless. All the laws of one of the most restrictive states were followed. The shooter took the guns illegally from his mother who owned them legally. Perhaps she irresponsibly did not have them properly safeguarded, but we do not know the circumstances. We should not yet judge her actions as we simply do not know what transpired before her son killed her.

The person who said that evil came into this school issued the cheapest of shots, the least helpful of comments. This was not evil in any spiritual sense. This was sickness and rage. This was human and primate. This young man is to be pitied on one level even as we deplore the monster he became in the last days of his life. I do not defend him. Had he not taken his own life, he would have needed killing. But he is to be pitied as well. Something went very, very wrong in his life, in his brain, in his mind.

It is interesting to hear the clergy try to respond. They have no response, they have no answers, no rationale. Many have even said that now is not the time to try to understand the horror in a theological sense. This, it seems to me, is the truest evidence of the inadequacy of religion to cope with the madness of a random universe.

There are no reasons and no excuse for faith betrayed. I appreciate that faith and prayer may comfort these people. Their religions, I hope, help them cope. But the incredible inadequacy of religion to explain, to justify, to even comprehend such events is deeply ironic. People have to cope...God does not seem to bother.

I have lost two daughters, in infancy, not from violence but from illness. Nonetheless, I can confirm that there is NOTHING so unnatural as a parent burying a child. Nothing inverts the natural order of the universe more. We are not here to bury our children; we are here to raise them and to be buried by them.

The people bringing teddy bears and gifts and toys to the memorials are doing so much more to comfort people than the empty platitudes of the religious. While I appreciate that well meaning clergy are trying to find answers, I suspect the comfort dogs brought in by a volunteer organization are accomplishing more.

The most hopeful thing is the people coming together. Bringing presents, toys, flowers to the memorials, grave goods to provide symbolic toys and comforts for these children in an afterlife, is a custom that predates humanity. Neanderthals used them. As long as we have been human we have done so. These rituals bring more answers to the random senselessness of such unspeakable events than virtually anything else.

I found it interesting to hear the one father say that he isn't angry. He will be. It will come. And I hope he is talking to someone and working his way through it when it does. Anger is both natural and good in these cases. It is cathartic and it is stress relieving. But only if it is properly directed and channeled. All these people will need help to deal and more perhaps than if the shooter were still alive.

The lack of a perpetrator to confront, the inability for this community to take its vengeance or to gain its justice will make closure much more difficult. If everyone involved were not dead, it would be easier to come to terms with the horror. There would be someone to glare at, to confront, to punish. As it is, there is no one. There is no one left to punish, to confront, to demand explanation of. This will make it all but impossible for the horror to be put to rest.

School shootings are, of course, among the most startling and tragic of mass murders. W expect our schools to provide a safe haven. And, of course, they cannot be safe from such madness. Nowhere can.

For myself, school shootings in America dates back to 1979. There were others before then, but I became somehow personally aware when Brenda Spencer, 16, sat in her San Diego window picking off children in the schoolyard across the street with the rifle her father gave her for the previous christmas. Her reason? "I don't like Mondays."

The Boomtown Rats captured the unreal senselessness of this in a song written about the events by Bob Geldof. As he waited to be interviewed about the group's new album he watched news of the event come across a Telex wire in a radio station in Atlanta. As an Irishman, someone foreign to our shores it effected him deeply.

Later that year I moved to the UK and this senseless school shooting was one of the first things I was queried about by my staff. As the big Texan coming into their midst, they wanted to know my take on an event that had occurred 6 months before. While I had all but forgotten it, their abiding interest awakened my interest and I have never forgotten the event, the shooter, her statement, or the song since. Brenda is still in prison, denied parole regularly.

in 1998 two young boys stole their grandfather's rifles in Arkansas, staked out their school, triggered a fire alarm and shot students and teachers as they evacuated the school. The two boys were aged 13 and 11. They were released at age 21. The oldest is back in prison.

In1999 Harris and Klebold murdered 12 students and a teacher before suiciding at Columbine High School. Again, there were many deductions made, much investigation, and lessons learned. But there was no one left to punish and closure has never been achieved for many of the wounded and the families of the dead. These two young men were outsiders, but nothing really indicates what brought them to such a pass as this.

There have been other shootings, mass killings, school massacres, both before and since. In 1966, Charles Whitman shot students at UT Austin. In February of 2012, T.J. Lane killed 3 and wounded 2 at a cafeteria table in Chardon High School, Chardon, Ohio.

These events, and others like the Aurora Cinema massacre, have no reasons, have no rationale. Oh, they have causes. The have genesis, they have triggers, but the triggers and the reasons make no sense.

Gun control will not stop these. It is a good thing, don't get me wrong. But there are so many guns in this country that there is no way to stop a determined person gaining access to them. It does not matter whether assault rifles are banned or magazine sizes are limited. Soon you will be able to print a handgun or a rifle on your Three D printer in the comfort of your own home. This genie, like so many others, is out of the bottle and cannot be stuffed back inside.

The only hope I see is to get better at detecting the signs of impending explosions of violence in these young people. We have a lot of data, we know a great deal about what triggers eruptions of this sort, but we have little infrastructure to intervene and help these people.

And let us not forget that 34 million children go to school every day safely. Our teachers and principals protect them and provide safe, nurturing environments. School is one of the safest places fr children to be. That is why it is so horrible when that safety is compromised.

Let us not forget that the second amendment, which makes such a proliferation of weapons possible, was put in place to ensure the people were able to protect themselves from their government if necessary. And that for 600 years people in this country have worked to make it a safe enough place that the majority of people do not feel a need to be armed even when they can be legally.

I support the second amendment and I am comfortable with well trained, respectful gun owners having concealed carry permits. I feel no need to be such and have only fired a weapon three times, when my brother-in-law gave me a .22 rifle at age ten and took me hunting with him. I did not enjoy the noise, the smell, or the sight of a small bird I shot dropping from its perch. But I see no problem with well trained gun enthusiasts possessing firearms.

Statistics have shown that crime is down and it decreases rapidly in states with concealed carry permits. When anyone might be armed, everyone is a bit more polite.

 But we must find a way to keep the guns away from the crazies. Note that in many of these shootings the shooters gained illegal posession of legally owned weapons. The safeguarding of weapons by gun owners is, it seems, a weak spot. As is the familial blind spots about the mental states of young people in that very fragile, angsty time know as young adulthood.

We need to find ways to identify and intervene in these cases. Without compromising civil rights. This does not promise to be easy.

Children must be protected, but we must also remember that the vast majority are well kept and well protected. Most places we congregate are safe and we must ask ourselves how much safer we want to be. Each bit of incremental safety reduces our liberty, our privacy, our freedom.

Each child is anther chance to get it right. We need to do so. People want answers but there may be no answers.

You can see no reasons
'Cause there are no reasons
What reasons do you need to die?