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Saturday, April 21, 2007

He Ain't Heavy* . . . but this post is

You may have noticed the flurry of silly on the blog this week. Not that I need an occasion for a flurry of silly, but this week I had one. In between laughing at Pearl, and joking with you all, and making fun of the tree lady, I cried, a lot. Hard crying that would hit while I was driving in my car, or sitting at my desk, or lying down to sleep. And I needed to escape to silly when I could.

This post will not be well-received by some.

I have been deeply saddened, as have so many millions of others, by the tragedy at Virgina Tech. I should say, the tragedies. There were many, and not just on that one day. They were set in motion years ago, when a mentally ill child, then adolescent, then young adult, apparently slipped through crack after crack. The final cracks were in the gun laws and the mental healthcare privacy laws in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

I don't have any friends or family members who were working or studying at the school at the time of the shootings. Because of our relative proximity to the school, many people in our area are alumni -- LG's teacher, Biscuit's vet, are just two I've spoken with this week. I've been thinking a lot about Seung-Hui Cho. And about his family. A local Christian radio station was calling yesterday for listeners to go on their website and send cards to the grieving families. And they said they wanted people to write to Cho's family, as well. That's what I had been thinking about doing.

As I recently commented on someone's blog, mourning a life is an even more painful and complex challenge than grieving someone's death. And I don't know if mourning a life ever ends. I say this from personal experience. When the person who died is someone like those brilliant, successful, cherished students and teachers that we see on TV, we know, everyone knows, that their lives, although much too short, were something to be celebrated. Family members have already made clear that their memorial services are to be celebrations of life. Of the joy they brought, the contributions they made.

When it is difficult to find something to celebrate about the person's life . . . what do you have but grief, pain, darkness? How will the Cho family honor their beloved son and brother's life? In what stories, memories, will they find comfort? I pray that there are some. We haven't heard them.

I heard a few people talk about how odd Cho was. I heard a couple of people say that they tried to talk to him, but he wouldn't talk. I heard a story of how, as a young adolescent, he refused to read aloud in class, and when the teacher wouldn't let it go, and forced him, his speech was unclear and the entire class laughed at him. From that day forward. And I heard him described by high school classmates as "this shy kid who got picked on every day at school," and "someone who would not even give someone a dirty look."

Today I saw that VT played a baseball game. The attendance broke all records. And during the game, the news report said, they observed 32 seconds of silence. That pushed the button that prompted this post. There are 33 grieving families. One grieves alone. One young man is excluded in death as he was in life.

I don't have the answers. And I have many more questions than I have the energy to address here. But I do hope we don't stop asking the questions until we get some things changed. Like laws. And hearts. I don't know which will be more difficult.

*for you youngsters, the title is from an oldie:

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows when
But I'm strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain't heavy, he's my brother.

So on we go
His welfare is my concern
No burden is he to bear
We'll get there
For I know
He would not encumber me

If I'm laden at all
I'm laden with sadness
That everyone's heart
Isn't filled with the gladness
Of love for one another.

It's a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we're on the way to there
Why not share
And the load
Doesn't weigh me down at all
He ain't heavy, he's my brother.

22 heads are better than one . . .

Anonymous Allisone said...

Love and compassion are never the wrong choices. As I see it, I am called to show God's love to others, not his judgement and not his wrath.
Any chance of a link to where letters to the families (all 33 of them) can be sent?

Blogger Susie said...

allisone, I haven't seen a link for all families. Clicking the link for the radio station in the post takes you to a way to send condolences to a few of the families (in the listening area of the station, I think), including the Cho family. If I see a more complete list, I'll post it.

Blogger Von Krankipantzen said...

I am so glad you wrote this because I see people with mental illness all the time being de-humanized because of the terrible things they do. I guess it is easier for people to believe this sort of behavior is only possible from "bad people" and everybody else is immune. These sorts of frightening actions are possible from every HUMAN BEING with the right set of environmental and physical circumstances. Why was this man not helped? Why does the stigma remain with mental illness? Why do kids continue to be ostracized and humiliated over their differences?

This is a tragedy on so many levels.

Blogger George said...

What VK said.

From millions of people who suffer mental illnesses, only a tiny minority are ever dangerous. Legitimate gun owners? Hardly ever dangerous. English majors? OK, you gotta watch them! ;-)

Seriously, it says something sad about our culture that compassion for a tortured human being, even one who has done something awful, would need to be prefaced by a disclaimer. But compassion itself is probably what keeps thousands of other tortured people from ever becoming violent. The violence that compassion prevents, never makes the news.

Blogger Toady said...

Thank you for being open minded enough to see (and share) the big picture. **hugs**

Blogger Lynn said...

Susie, I know what it is like to be abused and tormented into a retreat of solitary silence. I don't know what exactly happened in this young man's life, but I have my suspicions.

There is an empty place that is inhabited by the tortured. It is the only place left for those who do not feel that they have the right to walk the Earth; the contaminated ones who feel like so much sub-human filth.

Why it is that a few who inhabit that place turn to such extreme acts of violence is something I do not know, but I do know the place. It's a dark place with high walls where souls go to die.

Some inhabitants realize that and will do anything to get out of there. There is no way to get out without a struggle, without more pain. This is an agonizing realization and can make an already desperate situation feel utterly hopeless. The lucky ones can still scream out for help when the awful realization hits.

Some people are just lucky enough to have someone special hear them when they call out like that with their last ounce of energy; someone special who can hear and be heard through the prison walls. The voice of their special person can find them and shout directions, knock holes in the walls so they don't have to be alone and shine some light into their personal hell.

Cho was not lucky. I wish that he had been.

Anonymous platypus said...

As always you think the kind thoughts, even for those who have done terrible things. We are not as close to this as you are over there, obviously, but it does sound as though Cho was failed by everyone.

I just typed a bit about guns and their part in the tragedy but I've deleted it, I don't want to detract from what you've said. He seems to have been so full of rage that I think he would have found some way to unleash his anger anyway.

I think it would be great if you sent a letter to Cho's family. They have said that they are in a very dark place and it must be awful to not be able to grieve at a bereavement because of guilt that your child, your brother, did something so terrible. I think they need all the condolences they can get right now.

Blogger eclectic said...

I appreciate that you are addressing this, Susie. This week I've been dodging the news because I can't seem to make myself gorge on the media overload. Still, what I have heard has made me grieve for everyone touched by the situation, but especially as a mom, wondering how you survive the death of a child that everyone loved, and how much more difficult to mourn a child you now know that everyone hates. It is a painful situation on every level. My heart goes out to 33 families.

Blogger Susie said...

kranki, you're so right. I just read George's (DOF's) post about the "perfect storm," of circumstances that may have converged to create this tragedy. If we make him other than us, we feel safer. We can't get that ill; our children, siblings, parents, could never be like that. I wish we were as good at compassion and at actual mental health care as we are at deluding ourselves.

george, it's distressing to me that there is so much hatred for someone who was clearly so very ill. And so victimized, himself, for so many years. There are people who are ill and never do anyone harm; there are people who are bullied and never do anyone harm. The two together . . . can't lead to anything good.

toady, are you ToadyJoe? I can't tell. Anyhow, thank you, I appreciate that.

lynn, a very eloquent summation, my friend. I wish that, too. I know some people tried to call out to him. I wish more had tried, harder.

platy, I wish you'd write your gun post, if you're at all inclined. I'd like to hear what you have to say. And there are SO MANY elements to this whole event, I don't think attending to one dilutes another. It is so complex, so multi-faceted.

eclectic, the way you say that, goes right to my heart, and I guess, the heart of my pain for his family. How do you bury your child? But beyond that, how do you bury your child knowing he's despised by millions? And how much further do we have to evolve before we can discern illness from evil? I don't know.
We are pretty immersed in the whole thing here. I know the news is all over the country, but our school kids in the county all wore VT colors yesterday . . . I don't know if that's a nationwide thing or just because there are so many alumni around here, or what.

Blogger Squirl said...

Susie, I've been wondering if you were going to post about this. You are so compassionate and you usually do post on these matters. It doesn't surprise me, either, that you would feel compassion for Cho and his family.

I have never like to see people being bullied. Teachers have, traditionally, looked the other way. That was for the kids to work out themselves. But it's cruel. It's not just kids being kids. What a great way to develop alcoholics and mass murderers.

Anyway, thanks for this thought-provoking post.

Blogger WILLIAM said...

You rock Susie. And if I am ever in situation where I need someone to argue for me...I am picking you.Hate the sin not the sinner and definitely not the sinners family.

Blogger Momentarily_Distracted said...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awww, Susie, I've been thinking the same things this week. When I think about VTech, I think first of the young man who did the shooting. I know that not everyone thinks that however as someone who was picked on during my school years, it is never far from my thoughts. I am worried for this young man's family as well. How difficult it must be feeling they have nowhere to turn right now. While it is terrifying to think of this kind of thing happening anywhere, it breaks my heart that we live in a world where mental illness is stigmatized and ignored. I just read a book by Jodi Piccoult (sp?) called Nineteen Minutes about a school shooting. It was sad and real and heartbreaking. My thoughts are with all those affected by this tragedy and I wish there was something I could do that would make a difference. You are a beautiful soul, my friend, and I appreciate this post of yours. Peace.

Blogger lawbrat said...

I'm with you sister. After the incident at Brennen's school, we had a family talk about it. Who knows what could have happened, but I'm proud he stood up and felt comfortable to go to the right person.

Our talk was about the kid with the knife, what happened at VT, and the boys wanted an answer as to 'why'? I couldn't give them one.

What I did give them is alot of what you wrote here. A person makes choices, yes. But God loves the person making bad choices just as much, if not more, then the ones making good choices. The person that did that awful tragedy at VT needs prayers just as much as the families that lost loved ones. Brennen understood it more than Hunter, but one day he will understand.

God Bless you for this post.


Blogger mrtl said...

With all the background information that's come out about Cho's background, it only shows that something has to change. He couldn't be committed unless something happened. This something happened too late.

Hugs to you!

Blogger Susie said...

squirl, bullying remains a big problem. There are programs to address it, but they aren't very effective, and most schools don't use them anyway. And parents are dropping the ball on teaching compassion. And the laws have so little to do with reality or common sense. :(

william, yea. I did hear yesterday, a couple of people offer condolences to Cho's family, at their own family members' services, so that was good. I would argue for you against anyone except momo9. Only a fool would go up against her. ;)

MoDis, hi, honey. Hugs back to you.

traci, thank you. I've been thinking a lot about the things you and I discussed in email. Even before this happened, been thinking about all that.

peaches, the peaches don't fall far from the tree :) You are all good apples. I mean, peaches.

mrtl, isn't that insane? That's about the gist of it, though. Yes, all the signs are here, but we'll just wait until he does some serious harm. Oops. I just went back and copied part of a comment I left on DOF's blog:
"One of the most distressing to me is the participation of well-educated, well-meaning people, in his decompensation. The head of the English department, who tutored him privately for two years because his behavior was too bizarre for him to be in a regular classroom. Tutored him with a security guard outside her office door because she was so ill-at-ease with him. And other examples of bright people who walked on eggshells rather than violate his various rights by throwing him out of school or summoning his family to discuss the situation, either of which might have gotten him more psychiatric help. But no one did those things, because THAT would have been illegal. Cheez. It’s hard to keep track of who’s crazy, sometimes.
I don’t mean to sound as though I “blame” individuals; I don’t. We, as a nation, are seriously screwed up when it comes to having laws that make sense, regarding mental health care."
Can you imagine, as a teacher, how twisted your thinking would have to be, to teach under those conditions? Gaaaaahhhhh!


Well said, Susie Fairchild. We can never go wrong with compassion. Like eclectic, I've been keeping my head down about this for a whole slew of reasons. The "blame game" is a primary one.

Anonymous Ortizzle said...

Thank you for saying that so well. We are our brothers' keepers, for sure. I also agree with you on the mental health and gun control issue, but I won't get on my soap box.

Anonymous LadyBug said...

Love and hugs to you, Miss Susie.

Anonymous sheryl said...

And I love you even more for posting this.

allisone said it. Love and compassion are never wrong choices.

I wonder if, now, schools and businesses will begin to discuss ways of recognizing problems earlier and getting people the right kinds of help.

Hey, that song I just posted on your other post might work here too... or at least the last part.

To love all of God is to love humanity.

Anonymous Elizabeth said...

..ok, that's a couple of times you've put a lump in my throat recently...Susie I couldn't agree more with your entry. Amen girl.

Anonymous kalki said...

I'm just now reading your post, but when I read about the 32 seconds of silence, I thought the same thing. The VT thing hits closer to home for me, partly because of proximity and partly because I do know people there. We have family there, in fact. And at first I had nothing but anger for the gunman. But as the details of his life have slowly unfolded, I think I have, in the same way you're describing, mourned his sad life most of all.


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