Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Blame Game

I am not the first person to write about the horrific murder of 26 innocent random people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in CT yesterday.  I will not be the last.  I am by far not the only one to feel simultaneously emotionally overcome with empathetic grief for what their schoolmates and families endured yesterday coupled with outrage that something like this can and does happen.

I am, however, one of the relatively few, but yet far too many parents, who know exactly what those parents who arrived in a panic to pick up their children yesterday felt and are feeling now when they were told their child was one of the victims.  I promise you, no matter how much you feel for these families, you have no idea the hell that it is to live it.  Especially so close to Christmas.

When I heard the news yesterday, via Twitter and Facebook by a quick check on my phone at lunch time, I was moved to tears.  In the middle of the hospital cafeteria.  I took a deep breath.  I looked out the window.  I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer.  I sent Reiki and love to those children, teachers, parents and their community.  The visceral remembrance of the day my own daughter died suddenly and unexpectedly without a chance to say goodbye came rushing back.  Her death was not a a result of a random act of violence, but the reality is it doesn't matter what killed your child.   The fact they are here one minute and suddenly gone the next is enough.  The circumstances of their death matter little.  Your child is dead.  It doesn't get worse than that.

I thought of the guilt some of those parents may feel for not being the one to see them off to school that day, for being irritable with them because they were running late, for not hugging or kissing them good-bye for the day, for forgetting to tell them they loved them.  The pain of parents who may have been travelling out of town or were unreachable when the call came and couldn't get to the school or home fast enough.  The disbelief, the anger, the blow to your solar plexus and the pain in your heart when you realize you'll never have the chance to do those things ever again.  Wanting to see your child, even in death, yet not being allowed to.  Then, finally seeing them, lifeless and cold, in this case, with gunshot wounds.  My God, the feeling of your heart shattering is something you cannot even imagine...Wondering what their children felt, what they thought in their last moments.  Thinking about their teachers, heroic in their efforts to save the children and wondering why yours was one of the unlucky ones. Your body railing because they died, because they died alone, without their mommy and daddy, without saying good-bye, never to be again. Meghan's anniversary is just days away, so this hits close to home for me on many levels.  As if it could get any worse for these families, losing a child during the holiday season somehow makes the loss feel exponentially worse, if that is even possible.

I thought of the pain of the families of those teachers killed trying to protect the students in their care.  I thought of the children and teachers who witnessed the horror they did and will have to forever endure as part of their existence.  The PTSD they will have to cope with.  The survivor's guilt they may feel.  The fear those children may have about school or even ever leaving their homes again.  The loss of innocence for them all.  I felt the collective cry of their community, for having lost so many beautiful souls.  Oh, but how brightly they shine...

Later, when I read Twitter and Facebook again, nearly every post was about the tragedy.  There were two common threads.  One was the outpouring of support and messages of prayer and love to the victims and their families.  The other was outrage that this happened and a loud cry for gun control.

No one offered any prayers for the family of the man who shot all those people.  No one that I saw, apologized for their posts, often derogatory and inflamed, initially falsely accusing his brother due to confusion in news reports and then the same hateful words about the man that did do it.

No one thought for a moment that answer might not be, and probably is not, gun control.  No one considered, or if they did, publicly wrote about the fact the young man who did this was probably mentally ill.    Reports are emerging now of the possibility of an Autism spectrum disorder.  No one has mentioned that the system that should be in place to help people like him has clearly failed him.  As is true of most of the people who commit these types of crime around the world, their perception is skewed.  It's likely a chemical imbalance in their brain.  A distortion of reality.  A disorder of physiology that is not understood or respected or treated properly.  It doesn't in any way excuse him from the moral responsibility he failed to show and the horrible massacre at his hands, and since he killed himself, we will never know why he did it.  Yet, I feel for him and his family, too.  You have to be significantly troubled to want to kill your own mother and random completely innocent children.  His brain was broken.  Clearly broken.  The system that could and should have identified it and helped him clearly failed.

About gun control.  I abhor violence in any form.  I can't watch violent movies or video games.  I hate hearing people talk about them even though they are not 'real'.  I don't read books that involve acts of violence.  I have not yet watched a TV news story about this crime.  I do not believe we need assault rifles in our homes.  I do not believe we need any kind of gun in our homes, save perhaps for hunting rifles for those who hunt. Unless you are a member of the military, why do you need such a deadly weapon that could so easily fall into the hands of someone who may use it to kill themselves or someone else?  There are many ways to defend yourself without a firearm.  Having one doesn't guarantee you'll successfully defend yourself either, but it seems far more likely it will be used to kill someone else at the hands of someone else.

In many of these instances, and as I understand it in this one, the guns used were legally obtained and owned by the person who committed the crime or someone in their family.  There was easy access.  Background checks were done.  It's not hard to obtain a gun.  It's been reported his mother owned the guns he used to kill.  He was not a child. He was an adult.  The safety checks we recommend to protect kids from accidental access and use of guns in the home would not have applied to him.  He knew where they were and how to use them.  Clearly.  Why he did, we will likely never know.

There is a myth that people who kill with guns are 'hoodlums'.  That they obtain their weapons illegally, are not well-educated or well-off and are involved in a shadowish inner-city world of crime, drugs and gangs.  Clearly, this is not always the case.  More and more of these men (and it's always young men we hear about it seems) are reported to be well-educated, even 'brilliant' but typically loners.  They come from good families in good communities.  They are often reported as quiet and 'nice'.  It is often a shock that this person would be capable of such a crime let alone carry it out. For some reason, they have a psychotic break and suddenly commit horribly violent crimes like this one.  Some are carefully planned and some probably wake up that morning and just do it.  Maybe they don't even know why they are doing it.  Their friends and families seem to have no indication they would be capable of let alone actually commit such a horrific crime.  Some have been in counseling and thought not to be a threat to themselves and society, yet walk out of that therapists office and murder random people for no reason.

Gun control isn't the answer.  If we took away access to guns, other ways to kill would be used.  There was a similar incident yesterday where a man knifed 20 children in a school in China.  There are suicide bombers all over the middle-east and the world, killing themselves and random innocent people, including children with alarming regularity.  It's just part of life in their part of the world.  Not so in ours, until now.  There are a myriad of drugs and chemical weapons that could be used.  Where there is a will, there is a way.  That said, I'm all for some gun control reform.

Violent video games are often blamed for such crimes.  The real feel of first person shooter games give a sense of power, control and reality to many.  It gives them 'practice' if they are inclined to take their prowess at killing people in a virtual world into the real world.  Does it cause people to grab a gun and shoot someone.  I seriously doubt it.  Do all people who play violent shooter games kill people?  No.  If they did, we'd all be dead.  Do people who are mentally unstable with homicidal tendencies who play violent video games use them for inspiration?  Quite possibly.  Banning and blaming video games is not the answer.

Will people with Autism spectrum disorders or mental illness now get a bad rap?  They shouldn't.  It would be the equivalent of racism and it would be wrong.  What about children who are 'socially awkward' or 'loners'?  We tend to be quick to assign labels and place blame.  Often without finding out all the facts and circumstances first.  Labels don't solve a problem.  They often cause more problems.

The media sometimes takes the heat.  I am partially on board with this.  The non-stop and speculative coverage is not healthy or helpful for anyone.  No one benefits from wall to wall coverage of something so negative and violent.  It can cause further and deeper trauma.  It doesn't solve issues.  It doesn't foster a sense of community, if anything, it incites further unrest and fear.  A news story, sure.  Non-stop coverage that is repetition of the same information, most of which is 'unconfirmed' or speculation serves no one.  No one.

We need to figure out why there is the will to commit such horrible crimes, why no one sees it coming and fix the root cause of the violence.  We need a system that can identify and help these people before they feel the need to murder others.  Our mental health system is broken.  It cannot handle the needs of our people.  Mental illness is not easily identified.  It's not completely understood by non-professionals and even the professionals don't have all the answers.  Can someone with a high IQ outsmart the system and their counselors and doctors?  They can only do so much with what they have and know and the limitations put on them by time constraints and insurance coverage limits.

Many people also posted about God.  May God bless the children and their families.  Yes, but what God simultaneously welcomes innocent children into his arms while allowing another of his 'children' to murder them all?!  My God does not do that.  Maybe yours does.  I respect your opinion, but 'God' will not solve the problem.  'Evil' is not the problem. Many people commit their violent crimes in the name of their God.  Your faith in a deity will not change what has happened nor will it fix the problem, whatever your perceived problem is.  I totally understand that faith in a higher power and energy is necessary for so many to cope and live a human life.   It does not absolve us of personal responsibility.  It does not give us an 'excuse' for our behavior and actions.  I do believe in a collective universal love and energy.  I just don't call it "God".  I do not assign human traits to it.  I believe there is a universal energy of love.  We all must connect to the love.  Only the love.

What it comes down to is we can only ultimately be responsible for our own actions, or in this case, perhaps our reactions. As parents, we can only do so much to educate and support our children.  To instill values and set their moral compass.  We need to be more attentive to their personality, their needs, their behaviors.  We need to love them, support them, talk to them.  There may be nothing we can do to raise children that won't commit such horrific crimes, but surely there has to be a way to lessen the likelihood if we do a better job at identifying what causes the switch to flip and make it OK in someone's brain to murder innocent people.  We need to find the resources to learn how to help those that feel that violence is the only answer.

Some people have blamed the parents.  How dare you?  There are many wonderful loving parents whose children 'got lost' or committed similar crimes to the complete and utter surprise and dismay of their families.  Unless you know them intimately, you have no right to judge let alone offer commentary.

Can we make our schools safer?  Can we protect the innocence of our children?  Can we identify and help those who feel the only answer is to kill others and themselves?  Can we do it without blaming someone else and take responsibility for working together for the greater good of our community, our state, our country and the world?  I don't know.  I hope so. I do know hateful words, the blame game and assumptions and stereotyping are not the answers.

I just know that 26 families will experience a very similar hell to what I did 8 years ago, when they bury their loved ones just a week before Christmas.  One family will witness it all, knowing their family member was the one who created that hell.  They will bury a woman who was the mother of the man who committed this mass murder.  They will also bury her son, their brother, grandson, friend.  They will do so not knowing why he did this. They will have to endure the horrible comments and hatred directed their way for something THEY DID NOT DO.  My heart aches for all of them.  Every single one of them.

I talked with my boys today about it.  My high school freshman said the school made an announcement at the end of the day saying there was a school shooting in CT and their thoughts and prayers were with the families of the victims.  He seemed to know about it from what friends were saying.  He told me he came home and Googled it.  He didn't bring it up until we did, though.  Then he seemed to want to talk about it.  He thought it was horrific and stupid and what they hell was wrong with that guy.

My younger son did not know until we told him.  He is my sensitive and empathetic one.  He cried.  He said he was scared.  He said he didn't want to go to school anymore.  He felt bad for all those kids who won't get to have Christmas and how sad their families must be.  He is afraid it will happen in his school.  Both had age-expected and appropriate reactions.  We talked about it at length, both about the crime and the good that was part of the horror.  The heroism of the teachers, the first responders and the community.  The outpouring of love and support across the country and around the world.  We talked about why they did lock down drills at school and why it is important to listen to their teachers.  I did my best to assure him the school and we will do everything we can to keep them safe and that it is highly unlikely anything like that would ever happen again, let alone in his school. We snuggled.  We decided we'd make a card to send to the Sandy Hook School tomorrow.  He will draw a dove for peace and a heart for love.

What I did not do was promise him he wouldn't happen to him or in his school.  Because I can't.   I have no idea what will happen.  I won't make false promises.  I pray and hope it never happens again to anyone, anywhere, but I also know all too well thinking 'it' can't happen to you is foolish.  Whatever 'it' is.  Everyone at that school thought they were safe, too.  He often tells me he loves me and he's afraid I'll die.  I don't tell him that won't happen or not to worry.  I tell him I love him too, and I don't plan on dying anytime soon, but we all die someday and we don't always know when that will be.  I assure him I will always love him, wherever I am.

I can do nothing but send love and healing energy to those affected by the massacre at the elementary school in CT. EVERY ONE that was affected.  I hope you do the same.  We must choose the high road.  The road lined with love, compassion and light.  We must not give in to or subscribe to fear.  We need more than ever to focus on love, light and compassion for the entire world.  For peace.

Choose love.  Always, choose love.

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