This Is Us

     I wanted to write this column before the next mass shooting, while my mind was clear and my heart wasn’t heavy with the emotions that follow. I was too late. Sunday morning I heard the news reports of the Odessa, Texas shooting rampage. Not again, I thought. There is always a flurry of media attention after these tragedies occur. Days later, the furor dies down and the horror is forgotten – until the next time. The next time is now. The next time is constant. This is what we have become. This is us.

     The faces of these mass shooters share a strange sameness. Young. Unsmiling. Hopeless. Blank. Some news outlets won’t mention their names so as not to give them any notoriety. Locally, authorities believe they have averted another massacre with the arrest of a former area student who was planning to shoot up his North Carolina college campus. People who knew the young man were interviewed on the news. They offered up familiar quotes for news viewers. “I’m not surprised. He seems the type that would plan something like this.” This time authorities stepped in before something happened. One crisis is averted but the problem is not solved. 

     The finger pointing for blame goes on. Video games. Bad parenting. Mental illness. Accessible guns. Nobody can pinpoint the exact cause. It’s a combination of factors, different every time yet chillingly the same in the outcome. One common thread seems to be these young men have nothing in their life except a black hole where their soul should be. Maybe none of this would be happening if religion didn’t fall by the wayside in modern society.

     I’m not the most religious person you will meet. My commitment to religion was put to the test during the church sex scandals of the early 1990’s. The clergy’s hypocritical actions and the church’s unyielding ability to change with the times forced me (and thousands of others) to seek spirituality somewhere else other than organized religion. 

     I was a church-going youth. Church service was part of the fabric of Sunday morning throughout my childhood and into young adult life. Prayer was a nightly ritual. I had the luxury of making many deals with God. (“just make this happen and I swear I’ll go to church every Sunday from now on”). Maybe swearing wasn’t the best way to phrase my prayer requests but it’s the thought that counts.

     Religion has fallen by the wayside for a lot of people in younger generations. All of these twenty-somethings who are too young to know the world before September 11, 2001 were brought up in a brutal time in our country’s history. I went through grade school and college when the term “school shooting” didn’t even exist. Sure there was violence, social turbulence and clashes between extremists, but it was nothing like the mind-numbing horror of today’s mass shootings. Once unheard of, now commonplace.

     There are many theories about the cause of the current wave of mass shootings. The unifying factor of the gunmen seems to be a feeling of abandonment, a sense of being forgotten, left behind, unable to fit in. These men all seem to have a void in their lives that cannot be filled. Maybe in the “old days” it could have been. Maybe if more people turned toward religion instead of away from it none of this would be happening. Why hasn’t organized religion made strides to modernize itself to appeal to a younger generation as the older generation fades away?

When my children were small, I made sure they experienced church and religion. They were instilled with some sense of a higher power existing in their world. Most people I know believe in something other than what is right in front of their eyes. It’s not hard to find miracles if you look for them. If you only see the darkness, you can’t experience the light. And with nothing to give you hope, it is easy to give up. There is no way to avoid trouble when you feel you have no future. These disenfranchised souls feel there is only one way out. And they don’t care how many people they take with them on the way.

     This is the new normal. As a nation, we can’t deny the violence that has become enmeshed in the fabric of our daily lives. Why does the dialogue to solve society’s problems only take place after a tragedy? Working to find solutions should be an ongoing process even if nothing is ever solved. Evolution doesn’t happen overnight. The human condition is a work in progress. This is us now. It doesn’t have to be us in the future.

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