Sandy Hook

Inside:  Tragedy and outrage; The pattern; Mental health; Gun control; Religion

I need to process this.  This has been on all of our minds, I’m sure.  I’ll try to be concise and not meander like I usually do.  I’m sure I’ll be all over the map.  I’ll say one thing you agree with and then something you don’t in the next sentence.  So it goes.  I’ve got more questions and WTFs then anything else.

Let me get to point one.  Read the next paragraph or three and get away from your screen and go live some life.

First, I’d like to say that these events spread like contagions.  There have already been more shootings since Thursday(?) — and that was following a shooting earlier in the week — and there will be more.  There’s all this talk of the Mayan calendar and end of the world and that’s probably not helping the mental state of those who are already unstable.

I’m not saying be paranoid or walk around with your sidearm at head level (The Onion).  But you know.  Live.  Be mindful.  Let’s be less distracted so that we can really take in the good and hopefully avoid the bad.

And we can affirm each other’s existence and worth in the process.

The Center Can Not Hold

There are a lot of disturbing news stories.  Lots of heinous acts happening in this country and around the world.  Truly horrific.  Yet, there aren’t many stories that are physically painful.  There aren’t many that make me tear up and certainly not many that put a lump in my throat whenever I merely think about them.

My little sister is the Principal of an elementary school.  The school is going through changes and parents are very unhappy about that.  If such an event were to happen in her school she would be the first to save lives.  She would be the first to confront any shooter/attacker and depending on the circumstances she might even do it with a smile — “Can we talk about this?” —  the way she smiles at any person because they’re a human being with some dignity in there somewhere and deserve that basic affordance of humanity and civility.  Or she would put her body between an attacker and her school and her teachers and her kids.  We all know how that would probably end given the mental state of our society’s mass shooters.

My god.  When did teaching start becoming hazardous?

I’ve been thinking about my nephews this weekend: 10, 12 and 17.  Great kids.  My big sister has a lot of help from the family but my nephews get their character from her.

I think about my friends’ little kids.  My non-genetic nephews and nieces.  So adorable and adoring.  I want to be there for them, too, as they grow and discover who they are and what they’re here to do.

This Sandy Hook thing.  Sadness and rage mixed together.

I’ve never been in a life or death situation.  I know how I want to react but I’m not sure how that plays out in the real world when your brain has trouble catching up with reality and the adrenalin rages.

Still, I’ll say this.  Anyone who would try to do harm to these little people in my presence?  Let’s just say that the press and law enforcement would be using terms like “overkill” and may even want to examine my mental state because I will treat that perpetrator like he/she is a member of the ranks of the undead.

And what if the perpetrator is another kid, though?  Oh man.  How did we come to this?

Mental Health

I said I wouldn’t meander.  There was a kid in my high school whose nickname was Worm.  He had a look in his eye and he would write and say violent things.  He had that stewing-in-my-own-ultra-violent-fantasy-world body language about him. People would ignore him.  I’d talk to him occasionally.  He was “psychotically” upset that his family was abandoning their Judaism?  Something like that.  Today, he would be a prime suspect.  You would think he’d be likely to act out on those impulses.  I wonder if he ever got help.

I have a relative who has had some trouble with the law.  Got arrested a while back and the family — what can we do, y’know.  You just look at each other and shake your head like, “This isn’t going to end well but what can we do?  We’ve done all we can.”

I had dinner with her in Fells Point and asked about it.  I heard you got arrested?What’s that about?  I listened.  I didn’t agree but I listened.

Later I heard that she said something to the effect of, “Gary may have his issues (being distant and aloof) but he’s the only person in this family who asked me what happened and who wanted to hear my side of the story.”

I’ve had a college suite-mate who was on anti-psychotic medication and definitely had the crazies going on right behind his eyes.  He would say things about little elves cutting him while he slept.  Sometimes I couldn’t tell if he was serious. He was definitely playing along with his diagnosis but he was also a little off, for sure.  At least he had meds.

I don’t know what the solution is.  Obviously.  It’s not one simple thing.  But talking to someone does go a long way.  Even if they don’t make sense.  Well, even more important than talking to someone is listening.

I have a younger cousin.  Cool kid.  He started getting into a gangsta rap phase.  He started talking about his gun.  He told me about a party he went to and all the preppy kids were acting scared of him.  That wounded him, ironically, because the image he created of himself was that of a dude who didn’t give a $#! about your life.  He got into an argument with his parents, smashed a window and they had him temporarily committed to some program.  Substance abuse?  Troubled teens?

I visited him there.  Just once, which I feel guilty about it but … hey.  What’s going on?  What’s this place like?  What do you do while you’re here?  Is it helping?

(I had a younger friend who was in one of those juvy halfway houses and one of the guys who ran the place was — well, he would try to offer money for naked photos of the guys and things along those lines.  So if you have any troubled teens in your life, please follow up and make sure they’re not being taken advantage of.  They are the most vulnerable to abuse, molestation and dehumanization.)

Hm.  Meandering FAIL.

You can’t fix anyone.  But even obviously broken people, however you want to define it, appreciate and need to have someone hear them.  To be heard.

Our Society

We are very mentally isolated.  We have many ways in which to dive down the rabbit hole into a world of our own design and preference.  Once someone manages to live in their own fantasy world — particularly if they’re unbalanced — it can only get worse.

I’ve shared my opinion on people who live in their own ideological bubble before.  It’s not healthy or helpful.

Apparently, it can be lethal.

We don’t know all the details about the Lanza family.  I’m not blaming anyone.  Not blaming his parents.  Like I said, you can’t fix people and you can’t help a person who doesn’t want to be helped or isn’t capable of realizing that they need help.

Therapy and medication are often involved.  Medication can have awful side effects, though.  On one hand they make a person feel like not-themselves so they hate the meds.  On the other hand, some medications have a listed side effect of causing psychotic and violent behavior. Seriously.

Do we invest enough money in all the facilities it would take to take care of all of the mentally ill people?

Why are, like, 99% of these mass shooters (schools, in particular) young, disaffected white men?

Let’s Blame Something

Violent video games.  Movies.  Music.  Porn.  Obviously, they don’t cause any of this.

But they are without fail a part of that personal, internal underworld that disaffected people create for themselves.  In some combination. There’s no denying that.

Here’s the part where I rant like an old man.

Old Man Young rants

<rant>

Our culture is pornographic, if I may use that term in a non-standard way.  Sexually, we’re getting there.  Where everything is sex and objectification.  Where all the funny stuff is about balls, scrotums, vaginas, taints, etc.  Daily Show, Colbert Report, Family Guy, Tosh, stand up specials, Seth Rogen movies, and so on.

Shows that I like while I’m getting that shock value.  Not sure where they have left to go.

The Walking Dead.  Another show I watch and enjoy even as I culturally worry about the ultra-violence.  The ultra-violence is part of the story but now we’ve reached the point where we want to see it and experience it.  If it’s implied artistically, that’s not gritty or real enough.

A common complaint when I read critiques is that movie or show x doesn’t have enough deaths.  And that’s what keeps it from being authentic or gritty.  We want more death.

In many ways, we’ve gone totally limbic.  We want sex and violence (the gritty side of life and death).  We’re not the first.  Ancient societies embraced it long before we came along.  There is nothing new under the sun and all that.

But as we slough off pseudo-Victorian morays and our post-modern, post-religion values we find ourselves at a crossroads.

Who are we and what do we believe?  The answer seems to be who and whatever the $%^& we want, which ends up being … mass consumers trying to fill the void of our existence with distraction, excess and frivolity.

In my opinion, there’s a time for excess, distraction and frivolity but we seem to be prisoner to it, for lack of anything better or more meaningful.  We’re struggling to find meaning and purpose.

In olden days, your purpose may have been to survive the day.  Prepare for the lean season.  Keep your family and livestock alive.  That kind of thing.  And acknowledge the grand, vast infinity of existence/creation.  I’m not saying it was glamorous ruggedness or that it was pretty but there’s a lot in there that we’re missing today.

We’re hollow inside.  The best of us construct their inner selves with purpose.  Most of us struggle with what that should be.

</rant>

Religion

Did Mike Huckabee say that this keeps happening because we don’t have prayer in schools?  Oh.  Yeh, there’s a lot of conservative Christians saying things now.  I guess we’re right on schedule.

Prayer in schools.  People should be allowed to pray and meditate.  It doesn’t need to be sanctioned prayer.

But then again, there was a lot of praying going on all through the Jim Crow segregation years.  Lot of praying going on while black people were being lynched as a past time.  Indivisible “under God” was officially added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, which was around the height of segregation.

Frankly, religion can also facilitate a lot of craziness.  It just does.  Bubbles with bubbles and factions within factions.  You’ve got people still arguing over whether or not women should wear pants.

No.  Religion isn’t going to solve this.  To my Christians, I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “Of course not.  Religion isn’t the answer.   But a personal relationship with Jesus Christ…”

Well, if someone is already mentally unstable and then takes up the notion that they have an omnipotent, omniprescient, omnipresent force on their side or inside themSTINK BUG!

Okay, I’m back.  Where the heck did that thing come from?

Anyway, no.  Trying to reinvigorate religious fervor — to have a nationwide revival — is not going to solve this.

I think we could stand to have a sense of some values or shared morality but that’s always been illusory.  See American History.  See World History.  There have always been factions within Christianity battling one another over pretty much everything.  Has there ever been a unified front of morality and justice and peace?  Because of religion or Christianity, specifically?

So while it may be good and right, if you’re Christian, to teach those values and texts and practice faithfully or mindfully in your family, church and community — no, not just good.  Great.  It’s not going to fix the world.

Gun Control

Speaking of right on schedule.

I don’t think anyone is saying let’s take all of your guns.  Well, there are some people who’ve been saying things like, “I don’t know why we need any guns at all.”

But very few.  Like, no one wants the government knocking down your doors and grabbing your 9mm out of your dresser drawer or waistband or whatever.  Your hunting rifle, your shotgun.

What we all want — Lefty Lefterson and Mr. NRA — is to keep guns and especially those that are made for killing the most things possible within the shortest amount of time possible out of the hands of the mentally ill and the vaguely irresponsible.  Does an alcoholic qualify as responsible enough to own an AR-15 in, say, the heart of Manhattan?

So things like, uh.  If there’s a three day waiting period, that’s good.  That may prevent someone from doing something rash or irresponsible.  But then that person can drive to a local gun show or across a state border and buy those same guns?

That genie is out of the bottle, obviously.  We don’t want a situation where only thugs, criminals and gangs (organized and otherwise) are armed.  The police mainly respond to crime and their general presence is meant to deter it.  Preventing crime?  Stopping a crime in progress?

We have a right and responsibility to defend ourselves.  Somehow.  I don’t think that means that all of us should be carrying weapons on our persons at all times.  The problem is not that we don’t have enough guns.  I’ve heard the manly Christian men playing the part of guy with a lotta guns.  “I’m like a tough, gun-totin’ Jesus.”

Are we going to be the Wild West again?

Is every teacher and school administrator supposed to be Annie Oakley?  Every pastor a Priest with a Gun?  Every high school graduate teenage girl working at a smoothie stand in a mall?

More guns isn’t the solution to increased violence.  But anyone who has a license to carry a concealed weapon should have some serious training.

And what about race and class?  And power?

I mean, imagine.  If a school in every bucolic little town has to have a security guard, even.  But a well trained guard?    Suppose the poorly paid, armed security guard is the one who loses it?  Are we willing to pay for background checks, training, licensing, mental evaluations, physical evaluations, etc.?  At a time when some cities are gutting their police forces?

We can’t harden every soft target.  Oh wow.  We’re talking about a para-militarized society.  Are we talking about being our own Fascist state in the name of safety?

Bleh

In all reality, if I were ever in the midst of one of these situations chances are that I would not be some hero that saves the day, rending an attacker limb from limb with my bare hands.

No.  Chances are I’d get gunned down.  In many ways you’re at the mercy of circumstance.  I would hope that it would be in the process of doing something noble or useful.  I would do my best.  That’s the only way to be brave in that kind of situation, I think.

Hope

Obviously, it’s a cliche but it’s true that our thoughts and wills and feelings are on Sandy Hook.  In our way, we’re all grieving and trying to think our way through this.  Stupid arguments will happen and eventually things will go back to normal.  There’s a chance that not much will change and another shooting will happen and we’ll go through the exact same steps.

I went to a Christmas party last night.  It was fun.  And that’s the thing.  Among all the issues that are raised, a critical point is to live your life and be with other people.  Some people are good at embracing pain.  What about embracing life and love and each other.  Even an introvert like me.

There are families who will experience Christmas in a little over a week with their children murdered for absolutely no reason.  That’s a reminder to do whatever you do but with all your heart (without freaking out the people around you).  Less (material) stuff.  More time and interaction.  Quality of time over price of gadget.  Go somewhere together.  Learn something together.  Build something together.  Watch something together and talk about it.  Eat together.  Be together.

Life is too, too short even when it’s long.

Take care of yourselves, my people.  Stay frosty yet warm.

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2 comments

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  1. Janna

    I’m so mixed up about this one. You summed the mixedupness nicely, even the rambling parts.
    Mental Health. Yes, we need to put more resources there. Will we? Probably not.
    Better gun control, knowing who has guns, restricting what kinds they can have – this is all a great idea and we should do it, but will it stop these kind of events? I’m doubtful.
    The “going out in a blaze of glory” theme in our movie/video game media culture having something to do it? Yes, I think it does have something to do with it. But what do we do about that?
    And also, this is tragic, yes. No question. But what role does the easy availability of information have in our collective understanding of and conversation about these events? Is the risk of death from a crazy person on a rampage in the US significantly higher now than it was 10, 25, or 100 years ago? I’m willing to bet that no it’s not. That’s it’s still infinitesimally small. But still, if it was my kid… bah.

    Still the place I keep finding to focus for myself is in a quote from a religious dude, but the religion has nothing to do with it:

    “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
    -Frederick Buechner

    • garyarthuryoung

      It is tempting to just freak out. Don’t be afraid. Yes.

      Watching the news this morning and judging by what people are posting on Facebook the stupid (vague, reactionary) arguments have begun. More guns everywhere! No guns anywhere!

      I did hear someone talk about psychotropic medications, though. Not on major media outlets but still.

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