The stories of school, teenage, or young people in general, committing acts of violence always feels to strike deep within my heart. I so often wonder what could have been done differently? What can we learn? How can I get into the mind of the one how has committed such trauma against his peers; and yes, it typically is young men that commit such acts. It all came back to me upon hearing of the shooting this week at Perry Hall High School in Baltimore County, Maryland. It was, for at least a couple of years, the high school in my backyard during my first years as a priest. I have known many students that have gone through those doors, educated there, and have gone onto quite successful lives.
Then, today happens. It always seems to strike the least obvious places in our country and world, and all the questions once again begin to surface within me. I don’t claim to have answers and am not a trained psychologist, but do have a pretty good grasp of the human condition and the struggles that we face. We do tend to live in a world that has been pushed to the extremes, has faced great tragedy, is more aware of bullying and acts of violence, but we also live in a world where we are often glued to phones, televisions, computers, game systems, none of which are bad in and of themselves, but knowing the great suffering that takes place in the lives of so many people, including our young people, I can’t help but to think that there is a great deal of numbing that takes place in our and their lives because of these things. We become somewhat desensitized to trauma, need to find extreme ways for someone to listen, never being heard, eventually something has to give. Eventually grief must happen in our lives in order for us to at times deal with the problems, or better yet, be set free from the suffering.
I would never take away from the trauma that so many families have to endure because of senseless acts of violence like this one, but we need to, especially in a case like this where the one who committed the act is still alive, get into his mind and begin to understand what leads to such an extreme measure of getting attention. I believe it’s the only way that we will ever begin to come to some understanding. As much as I find myself praying for the victim and his family, I can’t help but to pray for this other young man, who obviously has deeply rooted problems of his own. Again, I don’t have the answers or know why, but can only begin to examine it based on my own experience of working with young people.
The way we teach to deal with problems, bullying, sufferings of great magnitude, will say a great deal about how someone responds. This time it happened in a place where it wasn’t expected, and yet it did because no one is immune from the brokenness of humanity; it’s a matter of what we do with that brokenness. If we continue to teach ways to numb the problem, eventually it all works its way to the surface and often takes shape in ways so extreme as today. A young man, not even of the legal age to drive, pulling out a gun and shooting; it doesn’t get much more extreme than that.
Yet, if we don’t find ways to listen and hear the cry of so many young people, we can only begin to ask ourselves, then what’s next? What other extreme measures will people feel they need to take in order to be heard, because that is so often what is needed. I don’t even want to begin to imagine what could be next! The shooter has a story as well, and as much as we feel we can’t, we must listen to him and to others like him who are pushed to the edges of society. They are all around us; the ones who look differently, distant, isolated, etc. All good signs of disconnectedness from reality, and rather than pass judgment upon them, give them a voice as well. If not now, when will we wake up from our own numbness and learn that we all have a story of hurt needing to be heard so that in turn we can love and be loved and be able to turn our violence into forgiveness and lead and mentor others to do the same.