I know your first inclination after hearing about yet another shooter on the loose this week, that is, if he hadn't been dead already: Kill the bastard!
The reason? Pain.
When I woke up yesterday morning, like you, to the news about the shooting at Navy Yard, I posted on my Facebook page that there's "too much pain in the world." Aaron Alexis is yet another example of that. Yes, of course, he's just caused so much more. No dispute there. But what can we do about it?
No pills, please. There's just one answer that I can see: Pray for compassion. Don't make this a religious thing. Make it a human thing. We had a life who'd been hurting for a long, long time. A news report today says Alexis had exhibited signs of mental illness in his early 20s. He had even complained of hearing voices and may have shown signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after 9/11; he may have taken part in rescue efforts. Several arrests followed. More than a decade later, the young man was still crying out for help, but who heard him enough to help him?
This is why stories like this drive me crazy. Here, we have a young man who was voicing his own concerns about his mental health. He was acting out, most likely cries for help. He was exhibiting behavior that, in totality, clearly shows a man in trouble and in need. Yet, he didn't find the help he needed. Why the hell not?
Can we please use this latest example of horror as the impetus to reach out. Could our government please step up with more mental health care coverage? Could our mental health experts please continue to educate us how we can recognize a person in pain and what can we do to help? Can we please teach our children that it's okay to speak up when hurting -- even if it has to do with how you feel? Can we please, now, make it okay for anyone to ask for help? And can be please find a way to provide it?
So many questions with no clear answers. And now we have so many more lives destroyed because, once again, we've failed. We've failed to recognize the growing mental health concerns our nation faces. We've failed to see the importance of funding mental health. We've failed to appreciate the need for more awareness programs regarding mental illness. And we just do not understand mental anguish at all.
If I were the one making the rules, I'd require everyone from age 15 and on to sit once a year inside a courthouse to observe. You would be surprised that the majority of cases a judge hears every day involve young men -- and women -- usually repeat offenders, in need of mental health care or drug intervention. Some of them, like Alexis, hear voices. Some of them, like Alexis, will gain access to a weapon. And who knows what will happen next?! But it might just happen in your hometown. Dare I say what you might suffer then? Were we able to require annual visits to the court house to see what really goes on inside our justice system, it might be a steady reminder of what you don't want. Maybe you'd get a clear idea of what we need to put in place. Jail time and prison time don't seem to be the answer to this kind of pain.
We have to find a way to build a more compassionate world -- one in which we reach out to the people in our community, one in which we don't look the other way. We're in need of understanding. We're in need of being heard. People are not listening to each other.
So maybe people in pain don't do the greatest job of expressing themselves. Maybe they're not clear enough. So don't look to their words to hear the pleas. Look in their expressionless eyes, at the way they carry themselves with drooping shoulders or a slower pace than normal. Look at the way they live, in a state of overwhelm. If their cries, especially the unexpressed, aren't heard, it's going to naturally turn to anger. Months? Years? If they go on unheard, that's an awful lot of boxed-up feelings. You must know, eventually, that box will open. Then out comes another Navy Yard. Only it just might be your yard.
So let's not just pop a pill in the box or turn the other cheek. Pills are a band-aid and ignorance isn't bliss in this case. If anything should be killed, it's the pain. There's too damn much pain in the world, and we can kill it with compassion. Let's start there.