In Darkest Night
As you may have noticed, this is not a review. I hope that this is not viewed as insensitive or in any way capitalizing on tragedy; that is not at all my intention and I would deeply regret if anything I say here today was misconstrued as such. However, this blog was started shortly after the Dark Knight Massacre and I would like to say something now about the recent tragedy in Connecticut. There was also a similar tragedy in China today. I do not know the details of it, so I will talk about the tragedy in my New England backyard, but my heart goes out to those affected by either tragedy.
This is a dark day. People all over the nation (and world) are trying to come to grips with what has happened, why it happened, and the way forward after what is for some a reality-shattering event and for others an all too common occurrence.
We have had multiple major shootings in America this year: The Dark Knight Massacre, the temple shooting, the recent mall shooting, and now this. At least 83 people have died in mass shootings in the US during 2012, according to ABCNews. One mass shooting is one too many, but the sheer number and scope this year has left me reeling.
I am not in the camp of people who think the world is more violent today. As a student of history, I know I’m statistically far less likely to be brutally murdered than I was several centuries ago, but I will not sit idly by and accept these unnecessary and preventable deaths as just the news of the day. I do not know what power, if any, I have to do anything or cause any sort of change, but I’d rather try and change nothing than not speak up at all.
This is a book blog though, and, as with the Dark Knight Massacre, I shall turn once again to books. For many of us books are a place to seek comfort, guidance, and some way to move forward. That is why I am so passionate about not censoring books. As Sherman Alexie says in “Why the Best Kids Books Are Written In Blood” (there’s a link to this article in my recent Perks review), books with troubling content do not traumatize the innocent, they provide validation to those who have already lost theirs. They start conversations. Sometimes they even cause real change. Banning them is a misguided and ineffective attempt to protect children that comes far too late.
Every time a tragedy like this comes around, we try to protect our children, our neighbors, our fellow movie-goers, and, again, it all comes too late. People rush to blame anything and everything that will provide an easy answer: Batman, costumes, South Park, Marilyn Manson, the media even blamed Shakespeare when Lincoln was assassinated. Every time this happens we find ourselves a scapegoat, obsess over every insignificant detail of the killer’s life in a desperate attempt to prove that they aren’t like us, and then go back to the status quo. And I’m sick of it.
We have the same conversation (or nonversation, to borrow a term from YouTube’s Alex Day) every time. We go round and round and round and nothing changes, and then something else happens and it’s too late again. So let’s stop. Let’s address the issues (yes, let’s even have the dreaded conversation about *gasp* gun control), and let’s make sure we’re not too late for the next school or mall or movie theatre or church. Because I don’t want to do this again. Even if it’s not my town or my school or my loved ones, I don’t want anyone to go through this again.
Obviously, we can’t stop all violence and crime, we can’t see every mental breakdown coming, but we can have a serious and long overdue conversation about how we react to, screen, diagnose, treat, and provide support for mental illness. It’s not always obvious that someone is going to be a serial killer or shoot up a room full of strangers, but our society is conditioned to ignore early warning signs of mental illness (whether mild or severe) out of fear of the stigma attached to mental illness or having a child or family member who struggles with mental illness, a fear of overstepping boundaries, or an inability to handle the situation for any number of reasons (time, money, healthcare access, education, etc).
As most of you know, I recently reviewed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which has taken on particular resonance today. Perks is all about the cycle of violence and how we handle (or fail to handle) mental illness. Luckily, Charlie’s situation is addressed before it’s too late. It could have been dealt with far earlier, but at least he got help before he became a school shooter or abusive boyfriend, such as similar characters in books by Alex Flinn or the countless people whose actions weren’t written in ink but in blood.
I’m not saying this tragedy was not Adam Lanza’s fault. It absolutely was. Just like the Dark Knight Massacre was James Holmes’s fault. But it did not have to happen. Maybe, like the Joker himself, all the treatment in the world could not have prevented what happened in Colorado or Connecticut, but perhaps it could have. Isn’t that a chance worth taking? Isn’t the chance that 20 children would be opening presents on Christmas morning or lighting Chanukkah candles tonight worth having a real conversation? Isn’t the chance that the people in Aurora, Colorado could have had a great time at the movies and come home to their families worth changing our approach to mental illness? Isn’t the chance that just one mass shooting could be avoided worth asking someone if they’re okay?
I found this article today and I thought perhaps it could begin a conversation about the state of mental health issues and the accessibility of firearms in this country.
For those out there preparing to jump down my throat about the Second Amendment, no one is coming for your guns. Regardless of your stance on your right to bear arms, this is unquestionably problematic. This is a conversation we need to have, even if it will open up a can of worms, differing opinions, and strong emotions. We owe these children that much. And we owe all the children who are safe at home tonight an honest, proactive effort to keep this from happening again.
I shall turn once more to the literary for wisdom. As Gandalf says in the recent film adaptation of The Hobbit, it is not great, heroic acts that keep the world from falling apart, it’s the little things and small acts of kindness. So go hold your children, hug a friend, listen when someone comes to you with a problem, and maybe, just maybe, we can become a village that raises children to be healthy and happy instead of burying or arresting them after it’s too late.