Tuesday, December 18, 2012


We pulled up to Anna's school yesterday, a drizzly Monday morning. There was a police car parked near the front door, and the officer was standing on the front steps, chatting with the principal. I was moved by the gesture, but couldn't help but feel sad.

Later at playgroup with Ethan in the school down the street, the classrooms we always walk by were unnaturally quiet. Thank you, thank you, thank you, I silently whispered to each teacher we passed. In the big room where the little ones were playing, I looked around and thought about where I would hide if a shooter entered the building. I'd jump out the window that cranks easily open, I decided, dropping Ethan down before me first.

The kids were at the water table, picking up ice cubes with tongs. I saw a mom look over at Ethan. Most of the people there know he is on the spectrum.

Don't ever, I whispered in my head, whispered to all of them. Don't ever look at my son and think of him, the one who did unspeakable things at Sandy Hook. Please.

When the horrific happens, we justifiably become enraged. And in our humanness, we long to direct that rage somewhere. I remember the afternoon of 9/11, sitting in the Disaster Command Center at the hospital where I worked, watching the smoke fill the sky from New York. "Whoever did this, we're going to kick their ass," a security guard watching said with ice and fire in his voice, staring at the television, staring at nothing.

Dan showed me the blurb on his phone on Friday night, as we were watching Anna's Christmas program at school. They're saying he's on the spectrum, he whispered, and my heart sank lower than it already was. I thought of the way the rumors fly. I thought of the way people with autism already struggle so to make their way in a neurotypical world. I thought of how easy it would be for people living in the fog of shock and outrage and grief, to look at ASD impairments like "lacks empathy," "shows little emotion," "prone to tantrums and outbursts" and take the leap that those must have led to cold-blooded murder.

Two days later I watched the president speak during a memorial service in Newtown. His words, and the governor before him, were full of grief and comfort. They spoke of spiritual things. They whispered of hope. That was needed, and necessary. I was also, though, left wondering after some of the veiled comments on changes that must be made. I don't doubt that stricter gun control laws may be a fruit of this horrible act. Perhaps that is not such a bad thing. But still...

I wonder about our knee-jerk reaction. I wonder about our need to find "the cause" of a crime, and what it says not just about our need to exact justice but also to feel in control. I wonder if in the midst of intense grief and wanting to right wrongs and do something, we can find it in us to step back and really look, really see.

We have to, we must see that there are no easy answers.

We can talk about guns...but someone with evil intent will find a way to get their hands on one, or if they can't, they'll resort to something else.

We can talk about our violent culture, of the glorification of gore in the media, in movies and television and video games (and indeed I think we must), but for every one person who played violent video games and turned to violent crime, there are millions who did not.

We can talk about autism, but anyone who knows anything about autism will tell you (and thankfully, many experts have been given a voice in recent days in the media) that people on the spectrum are not naturally prone to violence. They may have trouble relating to others -- but if anything, they are overwhelmingly more likely to harm themselves.

And we must talk about mental illness. We have to talk about what no one wants to talk about.

I remember the man in his forties who used to walk around the library where I worked, punching at the air, having heated arguments with no one. We snickered; he was spoken to and sent outside, where he would wander the park behind the library, continuing his conversations with the air. I often wondered his story. Yet my first inclination was to giggle.

I remember the woman I once worked with who talked about living in a nearby town when they closed the psychiatric hospital. They had nowhere to go, she said. They were considered relatively harmless, so they were turned out into the streets to roam the town.

I remember the story I wrote as a young intern, on behavioral health services at the hospital that employed me, about the inpatient hospitalization program for children. My eyes were opened to things I'd never heard of. Yet not many years later most of those programs were drastically cut, and the only psychiatric hospital for young people in the area closed its doors, leaving the nearest comprehensive mental health services for children in a neighboring state.

We will probably never know why Sandy Hook truly happened, other than the fact that we live in a fallen world. That doesn't mean that we don't search for answers and search to make things better, to make our world more safe, particularly for children. But in the rush to fix something terribly broken, we cannot rush to judgment; we cannot look for the easiest answers; we cannot address the symptoms without taking a long, hard look at the root causes.

Otherwise we are the ones punching valiantly at the air, grasping for answers, desperate for blame, trying to patch together a broken system with tape and glue when perhaps we need to start from scratch; to reconstruct.

No comments: