In the echoes of gunfire, when the soft patter of small feet seem louder in their absence, the heart reaches out in yearning to that moment of innocence, lost now. There is something bone-jarring in witnessing the death of a child, as if death rather than constant presence haunting our steps comes before our eyes in full, forcing us to hear the grinding of its bones, smell the charnel of graves and bear witness with eyes tearing up at an inability to close, unable to shut away the sight which shakes and rattles our constant stories of “not going to happen to me.”
The massacre of Newtown stands poised to join that unenviable club of events (like Columbine and 9/11) we remember with poignant detail conjoined with where we heard the news, felt our first thoughts, and still inspires an immediate up-swelling of emotions. A week has passed and I still remember the initial disbelief then shock and sorrow as the information continued to trickle in throughout the morning. The reactions were almost quotidian in their inevitability, banal in the hoarseness of their shouts. Too many guns, not enough guns; societal breakdown, removal of god. The litany went on and on in ever-increasing attempts at ideological showmanship, even now continuing to float like a thick miasma amidst the social sites and Internet.
We want to know why, we want to know, to simply know so as to find the bubble of sickness, lance it and move on, warily moving forward hoping we got the problem before it metastasized. I do not hope or even plan to attempt to answer the why of the shooter’s actions. I’d written a recent 3-part series on decision-making which should answer why I find this attempt foolishly egotistical even for my vaunted sense of intellectual capability. Doesn’t mean others won’t try, have tried, and will continue to try. As invariably as it comes in a society hooked on episodes of “Law and Order” and “Criminal Minds,” questions concerning the shooter’s mindset came up, every citizen becoming an arm-chair psychologist. While thankfully the meme concerning asperger’s being in some way a causal factor has subsided in the face of clear testimonial from experts noting violence is not associated with this disorder, there still resides here a point to be taken.
I have written before in this blog, often I have to admit, concerning relationships and how the standard view of mind and free-will is both naive and destructive. Having been faced recently with a quote from Ronald Reagan concerning personal responsibility and recognizing that while I agree with the words, the meaning behind them is considerably different for me than it likely was for him, I realize I need to write about responsibility and will do so next. At this time I want to remind us all of that age-old adage “there but for the grace of god go I.”
I am not Adam Lanza, but I could have been and so could have you. I’ll wait a moment for the possible screaming this may engender to die down. Clear now? Maybe not, but bear with me. I have mentioned before the mental game I play with people at times in asking them to think of themselves separate from any object, person or event, to form a picture without any social/personal/familial data. It’s impossible. Now switch something up. Use the incredible powers of our human imagination to cobble together a different life, one where parents shifted, the town in which you grew up was a different one, where every relationship you’ve ever had ceased to exist and was replaced with a completely different set. Choices are bound within the context, many the variables of which we are rarely consciously aware, and so every choice you’ve ever made would be different. The internal created narrative you have of yourself, built over a lifetime of data and more or less consistent when we need it to be, is gone and with it any sense of yourself as you are now. Instead someone else stands in your place and within this imagined reality, honesty should compel you to quiver just a little in humility at how fleeting our sense of self truly is, when the shifting of even a few variables would create someone we’d barely if at all recognize.
I’m not removing personal responsibility here. I’m not casting Lanza into an ethical void-land. I’m simply pointing out that responsibility and the sense of self that it is derived from is not nearly as obvious as we typically think. Ironically, both the left and right of the political spectrum, in their prognostication concerning what is at fault in this tragedy are both essentially saying the same thing: that by changing “x” there would have been an inevitable shift in behavior such that the shooting never would have occurred. Both essentially are stating the absence of a truly context-less free-will, despite both in other moments holding onto the notion with clenched fists and scraping nails. In either case, the reality of the situation leaves us in a quandary of which variables to focus on.
Rather than selecting any particular point, I want to direct attention to the underlying premise anyone engaged in thinking about this event takes for granted, that being the inherent interconnected quality Lanza, and therefore all of us, have in any and all situations, from the horror-ridden to the unashamedly joyful. The time for wallowing in anger and knee-jerk judgment will pass, if it hasn’t already. Then comes the task of safe-guarding a future for children who want only to bring home to their parents new art to put up on a fridge. We do them a disservice if we forget in our rush to placate our ideological dictates that we are all in this together, this being life and civilization.
The precise parameters of how we are our brother’s keeper are in need of discussion and dialogue but not the fact that none of us exist or behave in a vacuum of our own choosing. Separation, from self to community to the spiritual, will never solve anything. Let us have Newtown be more than a name associated with loss but a prophetic calling to create a truly new-town, a place where we find healing in integration and hope in togetherness.
© David Teachout