With a little more than a week before Christmas, and with the end of the Channukah celebration, the nation is collectively grieving over the death of 28 people in Newton, Connecticut, 20 of whom were six and seven year old children who will never again see another holiday or birthday. The families and friends of these children will never again be able to celebrate the holiday season with the joy and exuberance families should have this time of year.
I could easily go back to blaming people or organizations for the tragedy. I did that immediately after the massacre, but so has everyone else. That argument can be made another day. Today, I want to think about the lost; those lives cut short and a country that grieves with a town and families that they do not know, yet know well. A country who, as one, understands that life, especially those of our children is the most precious jewel that we possess for all too few years. And here, at a time dedicated to joy and celebration, we have all learned just how fragile even the most celebratory season can be.
I am not a religious person. In fact, I consider myself an atheist. What I am, however, is a lover of my fellow human being. My belief is in the innate goodness of the vast majority of humankind. Like the religious and the areligious alike, this abomination has haunted my waking and sleeping hours the past two days. I wonder how something like this could happen. I wonder how that level of evil can be welled up within any individual. How can someone kill so wantonly? Could it be prevented.
I think we have to look at the issue beyond the issues of gun ownership or even the theological issues of whether any deity could allow these people to be killed. What we have to begin to understand is that the act of murder, as distinguished from war or self defense, is an act of mental illness. One does not murder during periods of true sanity. The person may be legally sane, but, by it's very nature, murder is an insane act. It is contrary to where civilization has taken us. When we think about it, the act of murder is not even common in the animal kingdom. There is violence and there is killing, but it is almost always for purpose, whether food or procreation.
This analysis isn't being made cavalierly. There is little consolation to those who mourn, but there should be consolation to the rest of society. If we recognize that murder is an act of mental illness, there is hope. When we look at our nation in comparison to other countries that have lower murder rates and especially when we compare our country to those who have lower mass murder rates, the way we approach our mentally ill jumps out at us. Low violence countries treat their mentally ill. They provide services for them as children and as adults. They treat them in the health care system rather than the penal system. They control violence through treatment.
This brings us back to a holiday season, whose joy has been tempered by grief. Whether you are observing this season in a church or in a synagogue, or if you recognize Jesus' birth in a mosque, or you just want to feel good about a time that is supposed to bring peace and happiness to all, grieve in your own way for those who were lost in Newton. But also use this time of the year to put aside our rancor over the gun control issue and begin the discussion about how we can more effectively help those with severe mental illnesses in this nation. That dialogue may be able to lead to solutions that actually save lives down the road.
Nothing will bring back those who have already died and those whose hearts have been permanently torn asunder. But if we, as a nation, do something that saves lives in the future, we can find a positive star shining in a sea of despair. The issue should become how do we save lives, not how we blame one another.