Just Like Me

It’s been a busy week for the news media.  Wow, I guess they’ve all earned their negotiated salaries, although I do wish they would be paid somehow on the basis of what truth they spread.  Social media has also been busy.  Often partly a response to the news media, sometimes spread what they’ve called their own ‘truth’ and sometimes simply spreading lies (like the news), or popular opinion.

It’s made me pretty sad.  Sometimes it’s made me cry, that they can get away with saying the things the do, let alone convincing a somewhat gullible public that they are right.  Other times I took my own advice (Step Away From Your Screen) and literally stepped away from my computer, my television and my phone.  I had to do that to save my mental health because the whirlwind of information (true or otherwise) has wanted to wrap me up in it.  At times I wanted to fight some battles (because that’s who I am) but mostly I took my advice, backed off and watched with sadness.

Image credit: Chenspec/Wikipedia.com

During this week a lot of people have died in this world as a direct result of violence. There are the many who have made the news media, but there are also many more that we never hear about, yet their death’s are just as tragic.

The obvious victims are the 27 children and adults who were shot in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.  A tragic loss of so many lives that were mostly just beginning.

For a moment I want to consider two other deaths I have been aware of this week.  One is the 28th person to die at Sandy Hook, the shooter himself who turned the gun on himself.  Another tragic death I heard about this week was a man in England who was murdered in his own home. The details aren’t really important to what I am thinking, apart from to say that it appears his death was some type of vigilante pay back for a crime this man had recently been accused of having carried out.

In the case of both these men, the news media and the social media have played a part in spreading accusations and generalisations.  One man we have heard a lot about, the other you probably haven’t heard about.  What hasn’t been given is the truth.  We don’t know what is real and what is simply hearsay.

What I do know is that both of these men were just like me, in some ways.  They weren’t so different.  They had blood flowing through their veins. Like me they needed love, affection and acceptance.  At some point they had both probably been hurt badly, just like me.  These men were human beings, just like me, who it appeared that for some reason, everything went askew.

Maybe it was mental illness, maybe it was a developmental disorder.  Maybe too, they had some degree of evil (whatever that means) in them to drive them to the things they are said to have done.  Those things haven’t been clarified, yet the world has been quick to condemn.  Of the Connecticut young man I have seen a number of people describe him as ‘not human’.

That’s what leaves me sad.  I’m not condoning the actions of either of these men.  It was all wrong, and terribly devastating, particularly for those who lost family members and friends.

But these men were human, just like me.  And somewhere in spite of the horror of what has been happening, someone is no doubt grieving for them too.

I believe that these men were victims too.  I know that might be an unpopular stance to take, and I have no problem with people disagreeing with what I write (as long as I don’t get abused for an opinion).

Once, a number of years ago, both men were little boys and sometimes I find it helpful to think about them as when they were innocent children.  Again, because of the tragic death of 20 children last week it’s even hard to look at one of these men that way.  It just helps me to realise that while something has gone terrible wrong, these men were once just like you and me.

Yesterday I was at a barbeque (it’s summer here) which was a Christmas party for a group of people I know.  At one point I was sitting at a table with a lovely young man who I don’t know very well.  I’ve only met him a couple of times but what I do know is that he has Asperger’s Syndrome (a condition that has been subject to much media scrutiny this week).

It occurred to me while I was sitting eating my lunch with him, that it must be pretty difficult for him this week.  I know what it’s like to be looked down upon because I have a mental illness.  This young man doesn’t even have a mental illness (that I know of) yet the media have been putting him and other sufferers of Asperger’s in a group and saying we have to be careful of these people.  Apparently they might do ‘what Adam Lanza did’.

This man I was sitting with was, again, just like me.  He doesn’t deserve to be judged just because he has a disorder that makes him a little different from me.  Like me, he was enjoying having a drink, eating fresh berries and getting silly ‘Secret Santa’ gifts.  He had less to say for himself than most people on the group but that was the only noticeable difference.  He was, like me, having a good time.

Let me be very clear.  I’m not saying that horrific crimes committed against innocent people are acceptable.  They’re not.  It’s a terrible tragedy what has happened this week.  But we can’t afford to be looking at these people and thinking they are somehow different to us.  I’m not qualified to say why they might have done what they did.  I do have views on things that need to be done in society to prevent this from happening again, but those aren’t important right now.

What is important to me is that all the people who died this week (somewhere in the world) as a result of violence are human like me.  Someone loved them.  And to me, that puts a slightly different spin on things.

“The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy,  we can all sense a mysterious connection
to each other.”

~  Meryl Streep

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have
been all of these.” 

―    Siddhārtha Gautama


Beauty for Mourning

I woke myself up sleep-talking this morning.  I know it sounds funny, but I do it to myself quite often.  (You just can’t shut me up.).  As I woke, I was looking (in my dream) down the eye-piece of a gun and saying ‘but I can’t see if I’m going to hit someone’.  What I remember was being told to fire at a target but I was worried that people would walk in front of me, and I wouldn’t see them because I was focussed on the target.

It was a really weird dream for me to have.  I don’t do guns.  Ever.  I am completely against their use by the public and would never find myself in the situation of firing a gun.  Actually, because of something that happened a very long time ago I am very scared of them.  I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near one, let one be holding and firing it myself.  Yet that’s what I was dreaming.

The next thing I knew was the tragic news that 28 people had been shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. My heart sunk at the thought of yet another school shooting, and fell even further when I learnt that most of those killed were young children.

“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.”

 — Fred Rogers

It is extremely hard to find anything good in such a situation.  One of the first pictures I saw was of police officers leading children away from the school.  The helpers.  In spite of the tragedy, the helpers were there… and  we can be thankful for that.  There will be many helpers over the coming days helping children and adults from all types of situations deal with what has happened.  We can be thankful for them too.

One thing I’ve learnt in the last couple of years, through the earthquakes and other trauma here, is to look for the good.  It’s often really hard to see it, and it’s really hard to look away from the traumatic scenes to focus on something else, something good, maybe something beautiful.

Yesterday I drove up my driveway, and let me explain that there is nothing beautiful about the property these days.  As well as badly damaged homes, the driveway (bitumen) has enormous cracks across it from where the earthquakes nearly two years ago left it damaged.  I admit that I have had no inclination to do gardening because I know it will all be ripped up when the house is repaired.  So everything is looking pretty rough.  Yet I drove up the driveway and caught sight of something red on the ground.

Beauty for Mourning
Beauty for Mourning

When I got out of the car I found red poppies growing in what looks like the world’s worst driveway.  I’ve seen plenty of photos (although better standard than mine) of flowers coming up through bitumen or concrete.  Sometimes it looks genuine but mostly it looks like it has been placed there purposely.  These poppies were not placed there.  They grew from seeds blown from who knows where, and the forced their way through the hard surface to provide a touch of beauty.  It is a big property but these are the only flowers on it.  They’re risking everything, as I and my neighbour drive up over this area everyday.

Maybe that seems a bit dumb, but to me it was a gift, and if I hadn’t had my eyes open I wouldn’t have seen what I wasn’t expecting.  It was so nice to see something beautiful amongst so much damage (that I admit I am just used to now).

I don’t think  anyone has perfect words for a day like today, which has contained so much tragedy and heart ache for so many families.  Maybe the good in it is to remind the people we love, just how much we love them.  Treasure the beauty that exists.  Because it is there.  We just need to be reminded to look.  We often need to look where we least expect it. If we don’t have our eyes open, we might just miss it.

Image credit: FB/Bullying is for Losers
Image credit: FB/Bullying is for Losers (used with permission)