Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Nation Always One Step From Mourning

by Frank J Hopkins (writer), New York, June 19, 2007


I wanted to wait a bit before weighing in on the events at Virginia tech. I wanted to digest the coverage which was endless and as ever present as the morning sky. I wanted to wait until all that had yet to be revealed would be and then I wanted to see what it added up to and where it left those who alive must bear both memory and witness.
Do not disregard that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach because that feeling is correct-we have been here before.
We have gone down this dark road and still there are no lights planted to illuminate the path,no markers to distinguish the scarfice others have already made.
If it seems to you that all discussions seem to go over ground so threadbare that it would seem impossible that it could be tilled again you are not wrong.

Thirty-two people-students and faculty killed by one boy with two guns and the old conversations-the ones that began with Columbine,the ones that had promised that after that tragedy there would be no more. That there would be changes and that
we as a nation had learned that we live in a new world where you can no longer count on being safe from the demons that haunt so many in this country. Yet here we are some eight years later in virtually the same spot where we began:
with the same voices going over the same ground.

Yes,I know that since Columbine we have installed scanners at most schools,have hired more guards and put in more cameras.
I know that in some schools they offer classes where troubled students can come and talk-I know that we have re-arranged the mechanisms for safety but that is surface and the problems lie well beneath and more and more they are no longer content to slumber.
The bodies have been buried now...inconsolable families having reclaimed that which upon their arrival in this world heralded joy and promise but now offer only bitter sadness and deep despair. The graduation of that class was held Friday May 11th,
the posthumous degrees passed on to the dead and with that passing there is now a deep silence.

What has happened to our national conversation? What has become of the angst and over written outrage?
It did not last very long before being consigned to the outer realm of the newspaper back page and the bottom of the screen crawl. It was decided that Cho was a monster deserving nothing not even so much as clinical sympathy. Like too much in our current climate important and complicated things get reduced to the simplicity of black and white judgment,
of evil verses good,of things to terrible to be understood by civilized minds...Shame upon those who for programming on the cheap used the tragedy of Virginia Tech as wallpaper and back drop to disseminate flawed pop psychology,
to allow for one more set of experts to display for prestige and profit their suspect wares.
So much more has come to light about the killer Cho since April 16th:
how angry he was,
how deranged and lost
and victimized he was in his own mind.
Yet none of it will give those most affected what they want...what they need,
what they deserve...answers.

We have learned that since 2005 Cho was known to be a problem on the Virginia Tech campus-reported for stalking,
reported to campus R.A.’s as being possibly suicidal by his roommates. We know that his English professor thought that
Cho was troubled and brought it to the attention of the administration at Virginia tech. We know that some of the students in Cho's English class refused to be in that class where he was and in fact the same English professor said she did not want him in her class.
We know that he had been examined in 2005 and a judge found that he was a danger to himself and others. We know that only 17 states in this country require any mental health history as part of their back ground checks before a gun is sold.
We know all this and we also know that nothing of any substance was done...We know there were discussions and suggestions but no one at any point came out and said clearly that "we have a problem and we need to do something" and so nothing was done.
Now we have voices-indignant and full with high dudgeon-wanting to know what was missed. What else could have been.
Now there are angry and distraught parents as well as fellow students who want accountability and should not settle for "we did the best we could at the time."
There will be plenty of blame and wrinkling of brows;a plethora of study panels and recommendations....all much too late.
There are many things that we need to make sense here:

Why would no one among the 25 in that classroom at least make an attempt to rush the gunman?
How impersonal and caught up in our own lives have we become that a man(boy) like Cho could simply be ignored?
How far are we willing to go to ensure a safe society and whose definition of "safe" will we use?
I wonder if we have not created a society where the continual drumbeat of fear has made us impotent.
Has made it so that we become afraid to take action because
we have been told to be afraid of consequences-how many times has it happened that a person or an agency has intervened for the benefit of another person or child only to be sued or maligned for that very intervention.
I wonder if because we live in a society that seems incapable of dealing with uncomfortable emotions,that would prefer no one to be angry or sad or loud or rail if we have planted the seed that will allow ourselves to be conquered because we are afraid not only to act but afraid of the emotions that come with action. Action after all demands feeling,feeling demands that you take a position or point of view that spurs you to action regardless of consequence or harm.

Is it possible that in our efforts to make for our children if not ourselves a world where disappointment can be bargained away by prescriptions,where we must use only safe and agreeable language...where the illusion of fairness and kindness must be maintained even if the reality is vastly different. Have we created the perfect environment where our children and their's will no longer be able to cope with the disappointment and meanness that is a part of life and a necessary part that must be experienced in order for growth to occur. It is oft times that we measure ourselves by the actions of others and it is by that measuring that we are able to decide who we are and who we want to be....It seems to me that we do our children and ourselves no service by attempting to sanitize this life.
I say this because I have read with great alarm how in some places they won't let children play dodge ball because it is too violent or suppress expression that has been decided in advance might trigger some ill defined emotional upheaval.
Here in New York a non-binding resolution was passed banning the use of offensive language as if that in itself were cause and if some uniform conformity can make the ugliness or trauma of another's existence go away just so long as they do not verbalize it
We have become a nation of fence sitters,earnest hand-wringers who speak for action but do not seem to know when or where to use it . It is inconceivable to me that no one among that 25 would have thought to rush Cho,that no one in that room could have deduced that if they charge him as a group they might have been able to stop him. I say this not with meanness but with the same incredulity that I see on New York city subways where no one will tell groups loud mouthed children to be quiet or make someone move who has taken up an entire expanse of seat by laying down...I freely admit that I do not understand.
What type of society that pleads fealty to a Christian God would allow mentally ill people to go untreated? To pretend that it someone else's problem?
What type of society walks around shutting out their surroundings with I-pods and newspapers,finding new ways and rationalizations to ignore things they see and know are wrong or out of place but instead walk or run straight ahead just hoping to not get caught in the cross-fire of someone else problems.

I have heard some in the gun lobby suggest that if someone in that classroom had had a gun that this would not have happened-my initial response was to be angered but upon further reflection maybe,just maybe in this case they are right. I don't like the idea anymore than anyone else of every one walking around with guns nor am I comforted by the notion that we should just outlaw guns leaving them for the army and the police...this is truly troubling especially if you live in cities like New York or Los Angles. I don't know what the answer is but I know that there must be a mid-ground where both concerns can be addressed.
There is something else here,something that many do not want to talk about-why are they so many young people in this country who seem so disconnected,so left out and left alone....Yes I know Cho was mentally unstable(how could one not what with the grim diagnosis and dire exasperation shouted at all hours of the endless coverage) but there was what was underlining it the sense that he did not matter.
It is no small irony that in age where more and more people are supposedly connected via chat rooms,social networking websites,cell phones and all manner of odd clubs that so many feel left out. There has always been and always will be teenage angst and adult angst but something more pernicious is in the air....Too many feel crushed and gutted by the overwhelming corporatization of everything....Too many know that their government does not represent them and increasingly you might be able to make the argument that the citizenry is seen more and more as annoyance that must be outwardly acknowledged but that for all practical purpose is better left ignored.

As the technology of communication grows we relate less and less to the other,our interactions are transient,we lose ourselves in cyber worlds and then wonder why the real world seems empty and pointless. Depression in this country has grown and is growing at a rate equal to incarceration(and yes I know that there is a more open attitude towards depression and there fore the number of people coming forward are really those who had not been counted previously making the numbers skewed)but what is stunning is the number of children from 10-18 who say that they are depressed and demoralized;overwhelmed by the world and unsure of their relevance in it.
Why are children thinking about their place in the world? Why are children taking on the emotional angst of adults but without the experience to navigate those deep and troubling waters that even adults have trouble with. Might it be that all the fast-tracking of nineties,the rush to turn our children into fountains of knowledge so that they might get the best grades and therefore enter the best schools at a pace not their own for reasons not their own...might that not have been such a great idea in retrospect?
Might it not be better to let children be children. To let them come to things in their own time at their own resist the urge to turn even our children into a profitable commodity.
We live now in a time and place where we know that we will not do as well nor make as much money as our parents did. We live knowing that the best we might be able to achieve is worthwhile mediocrity and not having the courage of our parents leave to our children a world that is increasingly polarized and may one day soon be as bankrupt of resources as it seems to be of common cause and purpose.
Too many feel under assault;privacy has been devalued and the connections that once might have kept you aligned with your society seem to be ephemeral;too many finding themselves adrift with no place to anchor.

With all the words and analysis I am left feeling this way about Cho:He was an object without identity,who left to himself saw only evil and conspicuous consumption in those around him and having no center,having no one to call out to and no one that wished to call out to him devised a plan for vengeance and executed it. Thirty-two people dead.Thirty-two people who will not celebrate birthday's nor holiday's...Who will no longer experience joy or sadness.
The national conversation has moved along like some blind giant and so not long from now we will be here again reeling and crying....The silence that you hear now is the epitaph for the thirty-two who have died. The silence that you hear now is the silence that Cho must have heard and that in the end helped to drive his growing madness....
We are adept at building the machinery of war,adept at marketing and consuming,adept at making language either valid or invalid depending upon our whims.
We are adept at churning out the next Summer blockbuster and spending reams of ink upon its relevance...We are not as adept at educating our children,not as adept at manipulating the levers of power and politics to truly create a level playing.Not as adept as we like to believe when it comes to real charity or compassion and in our lack of real commitment to unconformable issues that cannot be solved in 30 sec increments we are creating a world where demons grow un fettered in the heads of those who are beneath our notice.
One day it will not be enough to blame the victim,to blame the accessories of our society...One day we will have no choice but to examine ourselves,let us hope that we will do this before the next unthinkable tragedy.
Before the next national conversation that roils and seethes but ultimately offers up only the usual suspects and nothing more.

About the Writer

Frank J Hopkins is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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