I’m struggling with what I want to write today. Why? Because what I want to say may be unpopular. Because someone might walk away thinking I’m insensitive. Because I don’t want this post to polarize or offend. Each of us has our own unique reaction to what happened yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut. This is mine.
I woke up today, and like many, wanted to see what updates were available on the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. The first NY Times’ article I read was a portrait of the life of the deceased suspect Adam Lanza. The headline? “A Gunman Who Left Few Footprints in Life.”
Reading through his story broke my heart. The reporter, who seemingly couldn’t locate a single friend of Adam’s to interview, instead interviewed neighbors and former classmates. The article mentions that Adam might have suffered from Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of autism, in which the individual has trouble communicating and interacting socially. In the photo accompanying the article, Adam’s mouth is awkwardly open. And his eyes, wide and confused. And haunting. Most people would probably say vacant, but I want so much to believe there was some kind of life behind them.
As human beings, we have an innate, deep need to connect with people. Loneliness can be debilitating. Heartbreaking. Adam may have been a loner, but it sounds like he was also desperately lonely.
It makes me think of that book Bowling Alone – about the decline of the American “community” over the past generation or so. Having lived in LA for 12 years, I know I have struggled to find a sense of community. Modern Western society seems hardwired to promote the “individual”: Not only can we survive mostly on things we buy online, limiting social contact, for whatever reason it feels harder than ever for us to simply admit – I’m vulnerable. (If you haven’t and you’re interested, I would check out Brene Brown’s Ted talk on vulnerability.) Centuries ago, when society was more agrarian, lives centered around town halls and squares where people bartered and sold their wares and foodstuffs. If you wanted to eat, if you wanted a book, if you wanted anything, you had to leave home. It was a given that your life depended on the successful interactions you had with others.
I don’t want it to sound like I think I have answers. Mental illness. Gun control. Violent video games. I don’t know. I just know that in addition to the many young lives that were tragically taken yesterday, there was a 20-year-old boy who seems like he, too, might have been some kind of victim, so desperate to connect with others that he felt like he had to take drastic measures for anyone to see him in the first place.