Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Those who abide in obscurity

Three things, as I see it, link the two killers in the latest murder sprees, one in rural Alabama and the other in small-town Germany. First, of course, is access to guns--both had it, and them. I was born and reared in Wisconsin, where high school kids are excused from classes on the opening day of deer season. I'm an ex-hunter myself--and ex-trapper. Some of the richest moments of my own childhood were set in the woods, where I was armed. It's difficult for me simply to blame the guns, although I certainly have my leanings.

The second comparison is in their relative obscurity. No one expected either of them to explode in violence the way they did. Michael McLendon, the kid from Alabama, was an A student who had few memorable run-ins with anyone. In the picture most widely broadcast of Tim Kretschmer, the kid who murdered 15 in a bloodbath near Stuttgart, he stands, round-shouldered, hands in his pockets, in a pose that clearly suggests his shyness. Apparently, he targeted women; McLendon wasn't similarly focused. But by all reports, no one would ever have suspected either to shed blood the way both of them did.

The third characterstic is obvious: they were both human beings. They both seem to have been at war with themselves about what they hadn't received, about not getting what they wanted or needed from their lives and their worlds.

My sister mentioned something once, in passing, that seems sadly relevant this morning. She said she thought it strange that we have--all of us--this seemingly insatiable need to be loved, even though we find it so hard to give love away ourselves. Maybe there is a relationship: what we want so desperately we won't give up so easily. Love is so much easier to take than to give. Why?--I don't know; but, Calvinist that I am, I attribute that mystery to sin itself.

Today in some just-as-unlikely hamlet somewhere on the globe, a horrific event or two, just as unforeseeable, may happen again, not just some copy-cat tragedy either; today, the world us just as full of men whose anger rises uncontrollably from some aggrieved sense of not getting enough of what they thought they needed or deserved, human beings who, madly, find it easier to strike out than to reach out.

What happened is not simply the gun's fault, nor is it the school's fault, or the community's fault, or our collective humanity's fault; these two young men abandoned their common humanity and killed others without regard or regret. They are to blame.

But what haunts this life-long teacher is the fact that no one--no teacher, no preacher, no boss, no guidance counselor--could have predicted that either of these madmen would do what they did. It wasn't the bad kids. This time--and often enough--it's the ones who say and do little to distinguish themselves in a class or pew. This time, once again, its the ones who abide in obscurity, the ones no one really thinks much about.

All of which makes me wonder how many kids, in forty years of teaching, I simply missed altogether.


Cara DeHaan said...

Your post reminds me of a short story by Tom King that I taught earlier this term: "The Closer You Get to Canada, the More Things Will Eat Your Horses" in A Short History of Indians in Canada. It's satire, like much of his writing - a shocking (and darkly very funny) commentary on the destructive drive in humans. In the same vein as Swift's "A Modest Proposal." You might like it.

jcs said...

Thanks for the tip :)

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