Yet another horrific shooting. It’s hard to keep off the news feeds for each bit of new information we learn of the perpetrator and his victims. It’s natural to want to understand. If we do finally learn of a motivation behind James Holmes’s actions, it will probably be more the trigger that set him off—the straw that broke the camel’s back, perhaps, or the dangerous obsession that’s informed his world of late.
A few years ago there was a fellow from a nearby town who declared himself the grand wizard of his own branch of the Klu Klux Klan. He would announce plans for a march a local town and instantly the media would be racing their news vans there to get reactions from politicians, police chiefs and random people on the street. Headlines would ensue, bloggers would go to work, counter-protests would be announced, etc. But the grand wizard turned out to be mostly an Oz-like apparition of smoke. No established KKK organization recognized him. His rallies would attract at most two of his buddies. He was in his early forties and living with his mother. He was fired after three weeks working at Wawa, the local convenience store chain. Yes, he could have been a danger if he had gotten a hold of a cache of guns but he never did. He was a guy who was a loser at everything except getting media attention for outrageous proposal. Last I looked up he’s got religion, recanted his racist ideology, and apologized for the KKK talk.
Another story I could tell is more personal, of a not-so-distant relative who went on a middling-murder spree—five dead in the end (I’ll omit details for reasons of family diplomacy). I only met him once but I’ve come to know the setting that shaped him. Some of the issues that shaped him go back generations and are still active. To tell the story of his snap would take a novel on the order of Jeffrey Eugendies’s Middlesex. I have an autistic son and know that this condition runs in the family. I try to imagine throwing him into a mainstream school setting with no support and no diagnosis, and then bringing him up in the family tradition of alcohol-based self-medication; a stint on the armed forces would just add to the explosive mix. Forty years from now my precious little boy might well be the top story on Action News. And it would be a tragedy.
If I had a time machine, I think I’d do experiments to understand the nexus of ideology and individual personality. I’d give a 24-year-old Osama bin Laden a desk job in an obscure Saudi ministry, and an 18-year-old Adolf Hitler a prize to a prestigious foreign art school.
Violent ideologies are often the perverted manifestation of less-visible personal and family tragedies. I hope we can find a way to step back from the voyeurism of Colorado details to find ways to extend ourselves in love and care. Tonight, when you feel rage or indignation, call up a friend or relative in pain. Yes, gun control can help lesson the immediate tragedy. But let’s not forget the long-term solutions. Think about how we lobby to widen access to medical care (e.g.: universal healthcare) and programs for the needy of our youth (hint: fund the schools, expand special-needs programs, bring back after-school programs and enrichment opportunties). There are three– and six-and eighteen-year-old’s out there teetering on crossroads of alternate futures. Let’s hold out our hands and invite them to paths of healing and love.