I am sitting in the lobby of the Hampton Inn this morning and listening to the replay of President Obama’s touching speech from the school grounds. He quoted Jesus as saying, “Suffer the children to come unto me” and proceeded to name each child, each victim of this horrendous tragedy. Across the room, the cleaning lady and I shared a knowing glance. “That is just so sad,” she said.
It is so sad.
And equally as sad is the star of the story, Adam Lanza, the shooter. He will go down in history books as the mastermind behind the second deadliest school shooting in American history. He has been labeled a “loon”, a “murderer”, and a “psycho”. He was called, “the quiet, friendless boy whom no one knew”.
He was only twenty. This young man is ten years my junior. What caused this? Investigators are still working through that question. What would cause a human being to cause harm to another human being? What would send a guy into such a rampage that he would murder harmless people, including his own mother? I cannot put myself in his shoes, because I cannot imagine slapping my own mother, much less murdering her.
And what about his family: the brother he hadn’t spoken to in two years, the father who is left behind, and all those connected to the family in some way? How do you begin to pick up those pieces? Can you imagine the level of guilt, shame, and total humiliation they all must be experiencing? The “what ifs” must be driving them to their own level of insanity. Was there something they could have done? Could they have helped Adam weeks, months, or years ago?
Two words that hit close to home have been tossed around connected to this story: mental illness. He’s been called crazy and unstable. I had an aunt who was diagnosed, and I take my own little white pills for anxiety and depression. I understand the stigma attached to a mental illness diagnosis; it is no fun. You walk around all day, feeling like you have a big sign on your forehead, that people know you are “crazy”, and that you’re being judged 24/7 for being weak enough to give into a mood stabilizer and the like.
Mental illness is no small matter and it is certainly no laughing matter. What Adam did is inexcusable, but let us all be wise with our words. Labels lie: don’t use them, don’t accept them.
I also think of many customers I see on a regular basis. I see people from all walks of life, but I find myself giving a second glance to those teens and young adults, dressed in all black, piercings covering their faces, and the boys with eyeliner. Nameless weirdos. Freaks. Crazies.
“Mr. Messy Grace” catches himself judging them on a regular basis. I wonder why they dress the way they do, why they cover their heads in metal, and why they never make eye contact or respond when I say, “Welcome to Starbucks, how are you today”? How rude!
This story has broken me for those we so often and easily overlook. I want to say, “the Church must do something to reach out” or “the government must do something to help the mentally ill”, but I realize that I must do something. Grace has beckoned me.
There must be a change and it must begin with me. Mother Teresa said, “Do not wait for leaders, do it alone, person to person.” So that is my challenge to myself today. There are hurting people in this world, bruised reeds (just like Jesus). It has been said that hurting people hurt people, but as one of the healed, I want to help. I want to love my neighbor: the weirdo, the loon, and the freak.
If you have a suggestion on what to do, where to get plugged in, and how to help, please leave a comment. I don’t know where to begin, but I am ready to do something.
Grace is calling each of us to do something.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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