A quote of which I am quite fond tells us that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
(Thank you, Soren Kierkegaard for this bit of philosophical wisdom.)
Perhaps that was the thinking behind Facebook’s latest gimmick – to offer up “Memories” of posts you have shared from years prior. Mostly you laugh at your old photos or think about how young you once looked (sigh.) But sometimes you think, wow, I was pretty profound.
Last week a “Memory” popped up on FB of a post I wrote four summers ago.
I was deeply upset by the July 20, 2012 mass shooting in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater by a young man named James Holmes. My understanding (looking backwards for understanding as Kierkegaard suggests) is that he acted without cognitive understanding while in a psychotic state due to his untreated severe mental illness.
Here is what I wrote on July 22, 2012:
“The silence of the parents of James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, touches my heart. How stunned, how shocked they must be. Even if they knew that their son’s mind was slipping into delusions and derangement, probably they could not help him or convince others to do so. They join the parents of the young man known as the mass shooter at Virginia Tech as members of a club they never thought they would belong to. They are grieving, too.”
Four years later, and my sympathy is also with parents of adults who take incomprehensible actions.
So many mass shootings have taken place in recent months – with different underlying causes.
- Some shootings caused by terrorists who did not, as best as I know, have any kind of mental illness, but sought to kill civilians for their own misguided political purposes.
- Some shootings caused by criminals who did not, as best as I know, act under the influence of mental illness, but instead were propelled by some toxic combination of their overwhelming hatred of others, racism and/or anger.
- Only a very few of mass shootings are caused by people, often – and sadly – young men – like James Holmes in the summer of 2012, with long untreated extremely severe mental illness whose emotions and thoughts are so impaired by the illness that they have lost all contact with external reality.
(For the record, people with severe mental illness, especially when it is untreated, are much more likely to be the victims of violent crime, than to be the perpetrators of it.)
Through the media we read tributes to the victims, those who died and learn about their relatives who are left behind.
Rarely, though, do we read about the families of the shooters. Who are grieving too.
They, too, will have an empty chair at the next holiday table. All future family gatherings will be missing the one relative who has become famous for his notoriety, not for his good deeds. I always remember that he was someone’s son, too. He was once well-loved. He had baby photos taken and admiring grandparents as he toddled around the house.
Then he grew up – and whatever the reason, ended up being one of those young men that we read about only when he does something tragic and terrible.
Try, if you can, when you hear about the latest mass shooting – and no doubt there will be more of them – to consider the parents of those who end up in the news for horrific reasons.
Can these parents ever, looking through a backwards lens, come to understand how their son changed from an adorable child to a very troubled adult?
Soren Kierkegaard had it right – but perhaps only up to a point. We live forward, yes, but we can not always understand life looking backwards. Sometimes life is just too inexplicable to understand the reasons why our children take the actions they do.