Four Conversations

“Why did he do it, Mom? My teacher at school said it might be because the kids at school were mean to him so he got them back.”

“Maybe. I don’t think I like that line of thought because it somehow justifies what he did. Like, if you are mean to me, I’m going to kill you and that’s just the way it is.”

“Ya, I didn’t think it sounded right, either. You don’t pull out your Tommy gun just because someone called you stupid. But, if I did call someone a name, do you think they would get mad enough to shoot people at school?”

I want to tell him no. No way. Kids aren’t going to bring a gun to school and shoot you or someone else. That kid you were mean to last year won’t come back this year and plot how to do it. That’s ridiculous! Don’t worry about that at all. Kids are sometimes mean and say things they regret. Tell him you’re sorry and be nice from now on. Just worry about learning where all the states are and remembering the history of the Civil War for your test on Thursday. Spend your in-between class time walking to the next building and giving everyone a high-five. Throw your backpack over your shoulder (don’t squish your fruit snack!) and make the most pressing thing on your mind whether that girl that sits two seats to the right of you in math class thinks you’re cute and spend lunch talking about the band you and your friends are putting together. Middle school is hard enough without worrying about if you might actually die or not. Instead, I say, “I hope not. I’d miss your freckles.” And then I sock him in the arm. He laughs and turns up the radio.

“Did you hear about those shootings, Mom? Some crazy kid at college went around and shot a bunch of people. Like, a bunch! My friend said they think he was insane or something. It’s so sad.”

“It is so sad. I’ve been sad about it all day. Did they talk about it in school?”

“Only for a sec. We had to finish getting ready for testing next week. But everyone was freaked out about it at lunch. I mean, how do you know that isn’t going to happen at our school? How can you tell if someone is about to go totally insane and start shooting people?”

“Well, I think that is the problem. You can’t. You just have to keep going through your day, doing your best, treating people with respect and hope that if someone was showing signs of being about to hurt people like that, that you would notice and get out of there. But probably, you wouldn’t notice unless they were actually holding a gun up. I wish I could tell you something more reassuring because I don’t think living every day being afraid is going to be the recipe for a happy life.”

After a long pause: “Someone like that wouldn’t be in my group of friends. Everyone that I hang out with is stable, I think. At least, too stable to take a gun to school and shoot people.” After another long pause: “I hope.”

“Mom, some dude shot a bunch of kids.”

“I know. I heard about it all afternoon on TV.”

“It just – it just – makes no sense, you know? Because if you are mad at someone? And you want to hurt them? Why kill them? You’d want to do something like ruin their reputation and make them live with it, you know? If you kill them, they are just dead. And if you kill yourself, you aren’t even around to see what happens. It makes no sense!”

“So, if you were really mad at someone, you’d just ruin their school life and make everyone hate them so they have a terrible schooling experience?”

“Right. I mean, that is really revenge, you know?”

“Do you have any theories about what might happen to a person who enjoys getting revenge like that? Any thoughts as to what the rest of their life looks like or feels like carrying around the responsibility of knowing they ruined someone’s entire year or most likely, years?”

“Well, no. I mean, I wouldn’t do it. But, there was this guy in 3rd grade that was mad at me because I did something that pissed him off and I don’t even remember what it is but he was so mad that he got all the other kids in our class to hate me and for the entire last half of the year, no one in my class would sit by me at lunch or be my partner for stuff. I hated it. And I wondered what it would be like to get him back.”

“What happened the next year? Was he still mean?”

“Actually, he’s kind of my friend now. We played football together a few years ago and now, I mean, he’s ok.”

“Do you still think about getting him back.”

“No. Sometimes. No.”

“Do you think stuff like that happens for a reason? If you believe in God, then don’t you have to believe that it happened for some reason?”

“I believe in a Higher Power. I do not believe that said Higher Power would condone what happened or want it to happen so that some good could come out of it.”

“But, some good could come out of it.”

“I’m fairly positive that some good will come out of it. Usually, some good comes out of tragedy. Most of the time it is quiet bits of good. Internal good. It hopefully changes one to be a softer, better person that watches out for others with compassion. But saying that those quiet bits of good were so necessary as to require a tragedy like this one is misguided, I think.”

“Maybe we can only learn to be compassionate after we experience a tragedy.”

“Let’s just go with your theory for a minute. What do you think happened to this kid at the college that shot everyone? What do you think happened in his life to make it seem like a good idea to do what he did? Did the preceding year of his life contain good and nurturing things, great experiences? And then suddenly, one day he woke up and thought that shooting up the school sounded good? Or was it a terrible year for him? A year full of tragedy and hurt of some sort? And if so, why didn’t it turn him into a more compassionate person? Why didn’t it turn him into someone that could never hurt someone else?”

“Good questions. I can see what you are saying. I guess I just want to make it make sense because if it doesn’t, then I don’t know how to think about it. But what you are saying means that there isn’t really a formula like I want.”

“Life experience definitely helps mold us into who we are. But every person has within them the ability to be nurturing and ‘good’ or harmful and ‘bad.’ Sometimes people learn to be bitter and angry, instead of loving and compassionate. I wish there was some way to come up with a formula that would work across the board. I think religion does that for some people.”

“Which is what I was saying. Then you can say there was a reason for it and feel safe again, like, right then, instead of having fear on your back for a long time. I think I need to come up with some kind of belief system so I can have that. What’s yours?”

“My belief is that everyone should try to live their life in a way that is centered in Love and that makes them feel Happy and that causes the least amount of pain and hurt to others and themselves because everyone is just as important as everyone else.”

“Ya. That sounds like you. Mine might be something like that but I’d throw in ‘except when I’m hungry, and then I’m more important that everyone else. Bring me some bread!”

7 Responses

  1. I can only hope more parents have conversations with their kids this week about this event. Respect is the key for everything in life – respect yourself, respect those around you, respect nature, respect everything. When we lose the respect, that is when bad things happen.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Will you be my mom? 🙂 I love how you handled every single one of those conversations. I worry a lot about the picked-on kids……my son might very well be one of them during his special education career.

  3. i can’t even imagine explaining this to my kids right now. it’s completely UN-explainable! they’re only 5 and 3 years old so i’ve successfully shielded them from the fact that this even happened. we never turn on the news in front of them…their innocence is such a short lived trait in this world anymore, why would we?

    i just hope i can show them as much grace and wisdom as you’re managing to show your brood now because who knows what life will be like once my kids are at an age where they need an explanation…when they start to notice the world is getting blown to bits and melting away all at the same time.

    i’m glad i found your blog today…you seem like one helluva cool mom!

  4. Whenever I get in situations like this, I ask myself – what would Mr. Rogers say? And somehow I say things a little better. Sounds like you did a great job all on your own.

    I’m a firm believer that any one of us could be as sick and twisted as that young man, if we choose to be. I also believe we can choose to be the opposite – saintly, kind, and compassionate.

    What you focus on grows. If you focus on hate and all the wrongs that have been done to you (and sometimes they are so minuscule!), they will envelope you, overcome you, and ultimately – consume you. On the flip side, we can grow strong roots down into the bedrock of love, responding to pain and hardship with patience and grateful hearts for all of the good around us (even if they are minuscule!). But man, it’s hard! It reminds me of Tiny Tim, being grateful that people would see him during the Christmas season and remember Christ who healed the lame. Or Corrie Ten Boom, being grateful for the fleas in her bed.

    What a sad tragedy for that young man. And, of course, for those lives he took.

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