When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words, and I am comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in the world.
Here is a particularly good piece by Ezra Klein that I shared this weekend on Facebook: 9 facts about guns and mass shootings in the US
In my Sunday morning meeting, someone talked about going to Mass that morning to find that the priest was handing out candles with the names of the victims on them. Then people would go up and light a votive for that particular victim. What he couldn't understand - and maybe understanding is just a mental game - was that the priest had a candle with the name of Adam Lanza on it. This reminded me of my friend Alice's Facebook status...that everyone in this tragedy including the shooter deserves our compassion.
In the critique of how society affects/creates these kinds of tragedies, I found this one rather eye-opening in that it was something that I'd already begun to feel was correct. Another Facebook friend said that he'd gotten quite a bit of hate mail at the suggestion that the mainstream media was using the massacre and our collective inability to turn away from it as a means to sell more ads. This also seems correct.
Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. "Wouldn't you say," she asked, "that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?" No, I said, I wouldn't say that. "But what about 'Basketball Diaries'?" she asked. "Doesn't that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?" The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it's unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.
The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. "Events like this," I said, "if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn't have messed with me. I'll go out in a blaze of glory."
In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of "explaining" them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.
A third Facebook friend questioned the killers' desires for attention. I do believe that it is there: overall, the killing and the subsequent suicide screams, "See? See how much I hurt? See how much I'm willing to hurt to make the hurt go away?" As someone who has spent quite a bit of time with people into cutting, and even my own dive into alcoholism, it makes sense.
I had starred a couple of items in my Google Reader to show how idiots like Mike Huckabee and Michelle Malkin were using the events of Friday to confirm their statuses as slime, but I did not think it conducive to give them the attention they so sorely crave. So instead I want to finish this post with a little bit about the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School who died Friday trying to protect the children in her care.
One of the victims of the shooting in Newtown, Conn. on Friday was school principal Dawn Hochsprung, who friends remember as a "hero" who dedicated to helping kids. Hochsprung, 47, was also raising five girls at home – two of her own daughters and three step-children.
Reports claim that Hochsprung and another adult at the school ran towards the sounds of gunfire. Today reports that her friends say they were not surprised. Former colleague Gerald Stomski said that "when Dawn was the principal in our school system, we talked about this exact type of incident. She certainly was inspiring and put her children first, and it was no surprise to me that she came to them. She’s actually a hero today."
The title of this post comes from the Sondheim song No One is Alone from the musical Into the Woods. It is a testament, to me, of the interconnectedness of all things: no one is alone, no one acts alone without it affecting others.