Waco, April 19, 1993
Oklahoma City, April 19, 1995
Columbine High School, April 20, 1999
John McDonough High School, April 14, 2003
Virginia Tech, April 16, 2007
Rio De Janeiro, April 7, 2011
Oikos University, April 2, 2012
Boston Marathon, April 15, 2013
So here's what I want to know...
This is what I think.
I think that violence comes from a place of deep sadness. That throughout the long, cold months of winter, through the gloom and the chill, the sadness congeals into anger and hate. And in those cold months, plans are born. Plans to punish, to hurt, to seek revenge for the anguish in one's own soul.
I think that through the darkest months, a person can cultivate this anger and hatred and fear, until they seem ready to burst. Plans are made. Manifestos written.
And then the sun breaks through the clouds. Spring comes, but not quite. It rains. It snows some more. But suddenly, the air seems almost filled with new life.
And the streets fill up with happy people, people ready to rejoin the world after a winter's passing. And for somebody harboring so much pain, the joy in others is fuel to the fire.
I think that the beginning of spring is an ultimatum. That in their feverish, desperate minds, these individuals feel that if they don't act now, their window is lost.
That window that seems to fall in the early weeks of true spring.
And so March is spent stockpiling weapons, surreptitiously buying supplies, writing and re-writing and re-writing manifestos. And when the world is most filled with the joy of spring. the time must come to act or lose the nerve.
I can't imagine the pain and heartbreak that friends and families of victims in Boston are experiencing now. Stories of brothers losing limbs protecting each other, of children maimed and murdered... it's too horrible to comprehend.
And as a parent, I feel anguish and heartbreak for those children- small and grown- who lie in hospital beds, filled with bits of metal. And my soul is crying out for the parents who are living in bedside chairs, participating in never-ending phone trees, crying and praying.
And as a parent, I feel a deep confusion for the attacker. For whatever person did this. And I feel anger towards his parents, who failed to teach a respect for basic humanity. And I simultaneously grieve for them, because despite my knee-jerk reaction, who's to say it's their fault? Who's to say they aren't more upset, more devastated, that somebody they love so deeply could be capable of so much violence?
As on so many birthdays, this year I am thinking back to the strangers and friends alike who I have seen suffer in the cold winter months. Who I did not reach out to. Who I didn't offer kind words.
And I wonder- could that have made the difference? Could simply reaching out and telling them, "It doesn't have to be like this. You can fill your heart with peace instead of hate," it might make a difference.
It's not just these massive public attacks, it's deeper. The suicide rate climbs dramatically in April. The likelihood of depressed persons inflicting self harm increases.
So what do we do to combat this? What do we do to stop people from feeding their fears and their anguish during the winter, to keep them from coming to this point at the start of spring?
I don't know. But I think that kindness it a part of the answer. That opening our hearts and letting everyone know, everywhere, that the winter is not eternal. Not the winter outside, and not the winter in their own minds.
I wish I could have reached out to somebody. To let them know there is good in humanity, that they could be an agent of that good, rather than wrap themselves in their fear and anger.
Because fear and anger and hate... they're a comfortable shroud. They're an addiction. Acknowledging them is painful, removing them traumatic. It is so much easier to say to yourself that you are right and the world is wrong than to admit that you might be trapped in your own delusions, that you might have built an entire worldview based on a lie.
But one person can make a difference.
Mr. Rogers said, "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 always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers- so many caring people in this world." But we shouldn't wait until after the disaster to be those helpers. We need to be them now, to the people who would cause harm. We need to show them that we are always there, waiting for our time to be of service.
Next winter, I will try more. I will offer a smile, I will offer a hand, I will do what I can to show love and warmth. I will strive not to hide inside of myself in the winter, but to reach out to others. To strangers or friends, to whomever might be cultivating inside themselves the fear and anger needed to lash out like this.
Next winter, we should all spread the warmth in our hearts a little further. And perhaps the spring may be a little brighter for it.