Heart Ache

photo by Josh Scholten

…be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it.
Paul Harding in Tinkers

There is plenty of aching confusion this week about the nature of criminal intent, premeditated planning and the role of mental illness in excusing responsibility.  Seeing the blank confused eyes of the Colorado mass murderer during his first court appearance (was he faking it?  was he sedated? was he simply mentally “checked out”?) brings up the question of his competency and capacity to discern right from wrong.   He was certainly very competent and highly organized at setting up and executing a diabolical and intricate plan for killing as large a number of people as possible.    Incompetent people usually can’t plan breakfast much less mass murder.

So how do we know evil when we see it?  We don’t have to look very far.  It is hidden deep enough in each of us that we don’t usually confront it daily, but it is there.  For some it is their daily bread, feeding them as it is fed and growing.   It can be all-consuming, finally taking over the heart and the soul completely, leaving nothing recognizable behind.

Not recognizable, however though completely undeserving, redeemable.

May there be mercy for the aching, clarity for the confused and a new heart to replace the lost.

 

 

Mingled with Grief

“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now
mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.”
— J. R. R. Tolkien

What happened last night in Aurora, Colorado is not fair.  There could not have been a darker place than a theater where a masked gunman gassed, then shot and killed escaping movie goers at a midnight showing of the new Batman movie.  I’m not a fan of the genre of troubled superheroes but my children and their friends and many of my patients are.  They like to attend first movie showings at midnight in big batches, celebrating an anticipated release together.  The young people who were killed and injured are just like them.  It is so unfair, just like so many violent tragedies instigated by a desperate person wanting to prove a point through random killings, then make the news in a “suicide by police” gesture.

The media has just released information that the young shooter is a neuroscience graduate student withdrawing from his program–someone whose motives are still unknown but whose struggles were undoubtedly apparent to his family and mentors.  He must be a bright and talented individual to have made it into a PhD program so this somehow compounds the tragedy.   One of the stark realities of our time is that before a shooter is identified by the media, there are dozens, maybe hundreds,  of people who wonder if and fear their family member (or patient) could be the one.   There are so many struggling with dark impulses and those around them often have a clue and have tried to help.   I’ve seen students in my practice with such thoughts and it is a heavy burden for them and for me to sort out how best to reduce the risk of them acting out their impulses.  There have been times when hospitalization isn’t possible, when meds aren’t effective or not taken, when counselors are ignored, when families are non-existent support.   That is when I can only pray on my own for light in my patient’s darkness, that he will not become the next headline, the next suicide, the next mass shooting.

There must be unfathomable grief today on the part of the families of the killed and injured, and on the part of the family of the shooter, and the recent University administrators and others who may have tried to help him.   There is no response possible except to love these hurting people as deeply as possible, surrounding them with hope and prayer.   They will never be the same.  The shooter has made certain of that.

The shooter didn’t extinguish the light nor has he extinguished himself, no matter how hard he hoped to.  We need to make sure he failed in his goal.  The media needs to draw a curtain around this tragedy and limit exposure.   To dwell on it only encourages this and the next mass murderer in their quest for infamy.

Our grief mingled with love grows the light brighter than ever;  prayers for mercy can effectively flood and extinguish the darkest of places.

Perhaps the last thing James Holmes might expect is that there are people who will pray for him as well.

It is only fair.