Friday, December 14, 2012

Tough Week in Connecticut

Slaughter of the Innocents

     This, as my tiny number of readers know, is not a political blog. I am not interested in writing about the second amendment, or gun rights, or any other such thing. My opinion on these issues does not matter. In fact, my opinion on any issue does not matter. I write here mostly just to get my own head screwed on straight.

     This was a hellish, horrible, murderous week for gun violence in my neck of the woods. I live and work in Connecticut. I am a music teacher. One of my colleagues who lives in the town in which I teach was gunned down by her husband this week. He shot her four times in the chest over some argument or the other. I worked with her when she ran the after-school strings program in my school for a time. She was from Russia and played the violin and was an amazing player and a good teacher. This year, one of my colleagues shot his own son in a case of mistaken identity when acting in defense of his sister who lives next door, a tragedy so awful that I cannot begin to comprehend how he feels every day. Today someone broke into a classroom in a town not far from where I live and where I work, and gunned down an entire kindergarten. 18 children are gone.  

    There are no words, no words at all, which can offer condolences for those parents. There is nothing I, nor anyone else for that matter, can do to ease their suffering. The only thing I can do is pray for them, and for the deceased. “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.”

     The children who died I have no worry for. They are perfectly happy and content, in the welcoming embrace of an all loving Father. The ones they have left behind: the grieving parents, the brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles, will have a pain and a hole in their lives and families that are impossible to fill, and will never be filled. Yes, over time the pain may become more bearable. Yes, (hopefully) they will come to recognize that there can be a spiritual relationship with their loved one still, and they will take some small solace from the sure knowledge that they will be reunited with their loved ones some day. Yet the hole will be there, until they too go to be with the Father. This will never be something they “get over.” Ever. 

      Then, there is the shooter, who is also dead. What sort of combination of narcissism and rage inspired his actions? Or rather, did mental illness play a role? What demons were with him? Is he one of the (hopefully few) souls suffering an eternity of torment, now that he has taken his mother's and so many children‘s lives along with his own? Or was he shot by a policeman? Can we hope that he, by some miracle of Divine Mercy, in the moments before the bullet ended his life, had time to authentically and completely repent of his actions and embrace a new direction?

     The teachers who put their lives on the line to protect their students have my appreciation and respect. They may not have society’s at large, but they sure as hell have mine. I am grateful to each and every one of them. My cousin teaches in that building. She is a relative and a colleague, and protected her students. I am so grateful to her.

     All this death by gun violence this week has left me shell shocked. All of it is so close to home. These are people I know. My cousin, the music teacher at that school, whom I regard as a hero and a colleague role model, sang at my wedding. She could have died today just going to work. I am tired, typing furiously while trying to get at what I am feeling, and I am angry at myself for even engaging in the exercise, for who am I to think my worthless thoughts matter, or feel anything, when other parents have lost children?  

      Look around yourself for minute. Aren’t you overwhelmed by all the hatred, anger, and violence you see? This violence strikes so close to home. There has been so much of it. It feels like it is just the physical manifestation of the violence I see all around me all the time: on TV, on the radio, and online.... especially online...

    The vitriol, hatred, and bile that spew forth from every corner is overwhelming. God help me, in the past I have even participated in it. People coming up today imbibe a steady diet of anger and rage and learn only to blame others for everything they perceive to be wrong with the world. Ever notice how with us human beings, it is always... always... the other guy's fault. If our first thought about this tragedy was not for the children, the parents, the teachers, the community, and the churches in Newtown Connecticut, but was rather about the second amendment, or about democrats, or about republicans, and how those people are responsible, then we need to look carefully in the mirror and do some soul searching, because we are part of the problem. What we lack (and I am as guilty as anyone else) is the ability to see that we, all of us, are responsible for the filth with which we surround ourselves. 

     Violence, porn, murder, and rape are our entertainment. Just turn on the TV. Our politics is a zero sum game of personal destruction. Our political ideologies are so engrained that few of us have the temerity to be friends with those with whom we disagree. In our Churches we would rather split apart and label each other heretics over this or that political issue than truly work.... TRULY WORK... for unity with one another. Everyone is degraded by sin, but we only have the ability to see it in others. Everyone’s reason and intellect are darkened by the fall, but we only have the temerity to see the stupidity in others.  Everyone has this violence somewhere in them, and we only recognize it in the other. 

     Is there hope for all this, any way to redeem what happened? I know only a few things: God is real. He lives. These children live with Him (I have SURETY about that). Hopefully the innocent adults who died were ready. I have hope for all of them. I ask God to give me the grace to think about the shooter with something other than anger, hatred, and malice. I ask that He give me the grace to feel sorrow. I ask that He teach me to pray and hope that, in that moment of time right before he died, he had an instant, a moment of clarity, a crack in his heart so consumed with sin (or illness) that he could truly and freely repent and come to know Christ’s mercy. 

      Gun violence. There is so much of it. This is supposed to be a hunting blog. Children and colleagues are dead this week. In large numbers.  So let me return to my theme of hunting and being a sportsman: I choose not to have guns in my house. It is a choice I do not regret. The only gun I will ever need is a 12 gauge, and I will get it when my children are older. It will live in a gun safe. It will fire slugs for deer and shot for birds. I ask you: what the hell else do any of us truly need? Handguns? Assault rifles? Armor piercing bullets? What the hell for? Those weapons only have one purpose, and it is not putting meat in the freezer.

    Do we choose to buy these things because we can’t trust the state to be reasonable and allow us our shotgun and our bow, or we can’t allow them a monopoly on serious fire power? The first is an irrational reaction to a concern that may be reasonable, but the second? Are we still seriously making those sorts of fanatical arguments? That is lunacy. What if we were reasonable and sat down and said, as sportsmen, “look, this is what we truly need. We need our bows. We need one maybe two different rifles for different game. Let’s work together. What can we do about gun violence while ensuring our right to hunt and enjoy the outdoors is respected?” 

     What if the sportsman community took the risk and reached out first? Yes, there are people who think that the gun did this, not the shooter, people who think that hunting deer is murder, people who think there is no reason to own any gun (even a muzzleloader) or even a bow for any reason.

     But how many such people are there, really? Aren’t most folks reasonable, decent human beings, marred by the fall but doing the best they can? Given the fact that children are dying every day due to gun violence, can we afford not to reach out now? Maybe if we toned down the rhetoric, toned down the violence of our words (on everything), tried to be more gentle, more loving, more understanding and sane, we could make some progress. Isn’t it time? 

     Isn’t it time not to respond in kind to the bile of others, but rather “turn the other cheek” and work to build a less violent, less crass, less godless culture, before it is too late? 


  1. Evil is a mystery to be endured, not a problem to be solved (Flannery O'Connor)

    My own take on this - and I was also a keen hunter and angler - is here. There is a Katherine Mansfield letter appended below it which is well worth reading.

    Stephen Sparrow

    1. I just read through the blog entry you linked. I agree that sin is real, and that what we need is grace, but mental illnesses are real too, and I know some amazing Christian psychotherapists. It is a "both and," not an "either or." We need Christ's grace, and we need to eschew evil, but those who suffer from mental illnesses (whether they be small, like low grade chronic anxiety, or huge, like autism combined with a personality disorder, like this shooter appears to have had) need access to help. The science behind psychology and psychiatry gets better and better, and the truth is, to truly heal human beings who suffer from mental illness, we need mental health care, AND grace, AND faith... (See the work of Conrad Baars),aps,427&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Afeeling%20and%20healing%20your%20emotions

      We can't eschew therapy or disregard it, if that is what is needed. Sin is real. So too is mental illness, whether it be the sort that is akin to the common cold, or the more major difficult-to-handle problems. The later does not absolve one from responsibility and culpability for the former, yet to downplay the later is a serious mistake.

  2. Thank you for commenting Stephen. We'll never solve the problem of evil, but we can (and indeed must) work against injustice and seek to defend the defenseless. We must always fight evil, especially in ourselves.

  3. Thank you Emre Akter. In my own defense my piece title did have a question mark beside it and in my final paragraph I did say

    "Absence of love is the medium in which sin flourishes, and insanity is not infrequently sin's accompanying dark angel, whether it be attached to the sinned against or the sinner ..."

    I certainly agree Psychotherapy has an important role to play but only if it falls in with the words of Jesus in Matt 24 : 45

  4. Emre, I have to admit to possessing no qualifications regarding psychology - merely life experience - I'm now 70. I have seen numerous instances where in my generation (raised in the aftermath of WWII (not a baby boomer though) many "released into the wild" having been raised with enormous expectations placed on them and when they fail to "deliver" their lack of self esteem seems to produce a counter reaction of arrogance which is extremely difficult for those closest to them. I also live in a city Christchurch NZ which in a six month period starting Sept 4th 2010 has been devastated by powerful earthquakes - one on Feb 22 2011 produced the most violent ground shaking recorded in any urban centre in the world. Many died and much property destroyed. The result now is much psychological trauma. We get by by talking about it. I'm grateful I never lived alone in all of this.

    I have listened in my life to thousands of priest's homilies. I remember the punch line of only one. About 12 years ago our priest seemed to depart from his script and say, "You know Judgement Day isn't going to be what you people think it will be. Judgement Day will be God saying to you, 'why were you not content to be what I wanted you to be' "

    Would that we could all take that on board.

    1. I agree. I think what you are describing here (the arrogance) is a sign of narcissism, a narcissism that has only gotten worse with my generation, and all the generations that followed yours. Then again, people are people. But I think we have lost much since your generation, and I fear we won't get it back.


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