19 Dec 2012
Newtown is the newest open wound that is hemorrhaging loss, sadness, trauma, and fear. It briefly saturated the nightly news and morning paper. It was briefly held up to the light and placed under a microscope so that we could briefly try making sense of this insanity.
We shake our heads and say aloud, "How could this happen"? We set about assigning blame... the shooter, his lack of socialization, his family, gun laws, mental health policies, apathy... an endless list of nouns and rationales. Once we are satisfied with the tendered explanations, we put it all in boxes, we tape them shut, we put them on a shelf and life goes on as usual. We watch our children sleeping, we pull them close and wrap our arms around them and tell them they are loved, they are safe, and that we will always protect them. This is the 'illusion' that allows us to move briskly forward in a society gone mad.
I logged onto my homepage. Just 4 days after this tragedy these are the headlines that graced that page.
- Most iconic Hollywood dresses of all time
- Health benefits of the holidays
- Guys on 'Girls' Tease Season 2: New Girlfriends, Lots of Cocaine (Video)
- Britney Spears split rumors
- Diet Pepsi's new sweetener
- Michael Douglas' son beaten
- Texas & Confederate flag ban
- Megan Fox's 'vampire baby'
- 'Scarface' actor arrested
- Instagram: Users pics in ads
Does anyone else find this odd? Does anyone else find this offensive? In just a matter of days, something so profoundly personal ends up political debating points, camera crews pack up and move on, our tolerance level is reset and reality is redefined by iconic Hollywood dresses, soda sweeteners, and Britney Spears.
What is the reality? I think it resides in the eyes of our children... children who are bullied, who are depressed, children who are left alone and ignored... children who, unfortunately, grow up wise beyond their years.
How often are the perpetrators of these crimes described as 'just a normal kid until this'? How often are they described as socially awkward, shy, bullied, or depressed in retrospect? Can we really expect much more when they are trying to maneuver a childhood alone that is thick with landmines? President Obama was right. This is enough. But saying it is enough cannot undo the neglect that is forced on our children whether it is a matter of choice or circumstance.
My youngest daughter, Amy, lives in Colorado with her husband Scott and their two sons, Justin (17) and Matthew (13). A year and a half ago Scott was diagnosed with hemochromatosis and Factor 10 hemophilia. It was devastating news. Both diagnoses are genetic, terminal, and so rare in tandem that he was referred to the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The treatment that was available to Scott has run its course and Scott was told he has only six months to live.
Three months before this news, Justin came to Amy and asked if he could talk to her in private. Amy had noticed his mood swings, from fully engaged and laughing to sleeping for hours barricaded in his room. Amy asked him during these periods if everything was alright. He would say 'yes' and so she'd assign the behaviors, as most parents would, to the catchall diagnosis, 'a teen thing'. However, the fulltime mom Justin had grown used to was now working 40+ hours a week and spending the rest of her waking hours at the doctor or hospital with Scott. His sounding board was removed by circumstance and he was floundering alone.
When they sat down that day to talk, Justin said, "Mom... something is wrong with me. Half the time I don't feel right. I don't feel like me and I can't stop it. I've been doing some research online and I have most of the symptoms of depression. I want to go to the doctor and see about taking an anti-depressant. I hate feeling this way". Justin was started on an anti-depressant within the week. He calls them his 'happy pills' and he is back.
When Amy told me the story recently, I said, "Oh God, poor Justin". Given my family history of depression, I wasn't surprised but I was sad. I knew exactly what was now to be part of Justin's life. Amy's reply, "Not poor Justin, mom. Yay for Justin. He got help". And she is right.
Justin is a brilliant, intuitive, sensitive child who took it upon himself to figure this out and then ask for help. That is hardly the norm. How many children are out there, like Justin, who cannot articulate this, who do not receive help, who reach the breaking point one day and end up armed in a grade school in Newtown, CT?
It is enough. But how do we undo the years of damage that has already occurred? How do we ask them to talk about something this intimate when they can't even name it? How do we take back their pain and make them new again? Stricter gun laws and giving mental health issues lip service does little for the children like Justin who, at this very moment, are only hanging on by a thread?
It may be enough, but is far from over.