I have been deeply calm the last few days. That might seem weird considering the violence in Aurora, Colorado, and the subsequent explosion of chatter chaos about gun control, along with the “thriller” media coverage of the “Movie Theater Massacre,” and the “why, why, why,” and the anger and the inexpressible pain over loss of love and life.
On November 22, 1963, I learned that I react to this level of drama and chaos and violence by going into an almost altered state of deep calm and clarity. I learned this on the bus home from school when we were dismissed early because the President had been shot. I learned this as the sustained screams of the other children on the bus reached a deafeningly high pitch—almost like celebration, but really a reaction to grief that was beyond their bodies’ capability to contain. My best friend, Roxy, told me about the assassination. We were in the seventh grade; someone had just come to tell our teacher, who released us out into the halls, which is where the screaming began. When Roxy told me—yelled it actually, to be heard above the shrieks—I felt a sadness as deep as the calm I went into. “One big tear rolled down your face,” she told me a few days later, trying to understand. I couldn’t explain. I couldn’t talk. But I felt a deep, clear calm and I knew life as we’d all known it had changed forever.
I’m feeling something similar now, and as an adult I would like to at least try to articulate it. I read a New York Times editorial yesterday called Don’t Jump to Conclusions about the Killer by Dave Cullen. The piece suggested that if his research into the Columbine massacre killers’ backgrounds had anything to teach, it’s that the killer’s actions probably had little to do with revenge or a response to bullying. Instead, it probably has to do with that moment when a clinically depressed person who relentlessly hates himself finally disconnects from himself. He can no longer contain the pain and he becomes unreal to himself. And therefore everyone and everything else becomes equally unreal. His self-directed anger ceases to have an effect on his unreal self, so it turns outward, and craving a release, it acts.
I commented to this effect on Facebook, and I also suggested this is not that hard to understand—a risk, I know, and I was a little afraid to say how easily I can understand the actions of an apparent maniac. But I can. I’ve never experienced permanent dissociation, but I’ve certainly had moments so dark that I wanted to just kill everything. I can also understand inexpressible grief at loss of loved ones and life-altering shock at the betrayal of unexpected violence. I can feel and understand all these things.
And although I think it would be great if we could ban assault rifles whose only job is to annihilate, I don’t think that will ever stop this kind of violence. Nor do I think death penalties and jails and blaming will ever end this. In fact, I think we are probably past the tipping point and we will annihilate ourselves and our planet sooner than later. And the inevitability perhaps makes me brave enough to say what I really think.
I think the only direction we can go in is to become big enough to contain the paradoxes and accept that we are all everybody: We all have the capability to be disconnected from ourselves and do the unthinkable. We all have the capability to love and be hurt. If we claim otherwise and deflect into drama or blaming, we are gripping onto a fantasy in a desperate effort to believe in an idealized goodness that simply doesn’t exist.
We are One. One is Us. Blame is Moot.