Thursday, December 20, 2012

Herd Bound

I apologize that the following post is a bit long and wandering. I have had a hard time corralling my thoughts this past week. But I’ve grown weary of thinking about this, so I share my untidied thoughts: 

I was reading details of last Friday’s nightmare and one fact struck me. When asked about the shooter, a former administrator who had known him in high school said, “Did you find a best friend? Did you find any friend? You won’t. He didn’t have any.” The young man had no friends. Not one. Now, I am in no conceivable way excusing his actions, nor even trying to explain them. I’m just noting this fact. 

Every time I open Facebook, another beautiful face appears. These are the faces of the children who were killed at their Elementary School where they should have been safe from a maniac with a gun. Seeing their perfect, precious faces brings fresh tears to my eyes again and again. I can’t fathom their parent’s pain. All weekend long, the world felt out of sorts for me.  

And now today, alone in my house, I feel even more out of sorts. As a mom, you know all too well the worry that goes with parenting. But there are times when the worry you feel for your children is cranked up, and other times the worry recedes, like background music. Normally, by 9am on a school day, I can relax. If any of the school buses carrying my children were to have crashed, I would have heard about it by now. My children are safe at school. There is a break in the worry until 2:45 when they board a bus again. I am out of sorts because I can’t stop thinking about the path a crazed gunman might take in my own children’s school buildings. I wonder whether the fire doors could be automatically closed off to protect them. I consider that the Middle School seems safest because the classrooms are so far from the entrance. These are not thoughts that usually torment me on the average week day. 

There have been school shootings before. But none like this. President Obama said, in his message at the memorial service in Newtown, “We cannot accept this.” I don’t accept it either. The situations, relationships, and health issues that led to this atrocity are vast and complicated. But if we say there is nothing we can do, then we resign ourselves to more days like Friday. We accept that it is normal to fear for our children’s lives – when they are at the mall, or the movies, or sitting in their classroom at school on a beautiful day.  

How is it that no one knew this troubled young man? His mother played Bunko on a weekly basis, but never hosted, and apparently didn’t talk about her son. He almost seems like a ghost. The landscaper, the man who seemed to know the most about the family, to hear the press tell, had never met the shooter or been inside their house. The shooter attended public schools where at least one professional was aware of the fact that he was friendless. Did no one else wonder why? Did no one want to be his friend? Or did he not want any friends? And if that’s the case, why did the adults around him accept that?  

We are herd animals. I spend many more hours than necessary considering the motivations of my young horse. He is “herd bound,” which means that he basically panics if he isn’t near another horse. His primary motivator is the need to be part of a herd. I believe that humans are also herd animals. Maybe they don’t require a large herd, perhaps the herd is only a handful, but we need each other. This young man should have been known to someone.  

His own brother, in disclaiming him, said he hadn’t spoken to him since 2010. His father is keeping his distance. All the evidence suggests this young man wasn’t a mentally healthy or happy person. So, it’s easy to assume people didn’t enjoy his company. Still, not one friend has come forward. Not one classmate. Not even a desperate soul seeking the attention of the national media has pretended to know this man. I find that peculiar.  

During the massacre, it was reported he said not a word. He simply pulled a trigger. And he would have gone on pulling that trigger it seems if first responders hadn’t arrived at the school. What leads to a moment like that? Is it violent video games? Movies that make light of death? Fame granted other mass killers? Or is it the availability of a weapon capable of killing so many in such a short time? Was this man a victim of bullying? Was he mentally ill and had a snap? Was he abused? We’ll never know what brought him to this point because no one knew him. 

He was not acknowledged in life. His existence was anonymous in a small “tight knit” town where everyone seems to know everyone else. I abhor what he did. There is no sense to be made, no lesson to be learned here. But it does make me wonder at what point we will begin to take responsibility for each other. Technology is driving us to be even more distant. It is possible to live a life completely unknown to everyone. But as a herd animal, I believe that is not a good thing.  

When my mother-in-law visits, we take long walks up my road. I do not live in a “neighborhood” and the houses on my street are few and far between. The cable company won’t even bring cable up our road because it’s too costly for the small return on customers. As we walk, my mother-in-law asks about the people who live in the houses we pass. I know most of them. I know some of their stories, but it has taken time and effort. When I was growing up, I not only knew the names of all my neighbors, but I knew what the inside of their houses looked like and whose mother was most likely to offer a snack. I knew the names of their pets. I knew who had a real Christmas tree and who kept a fake one. Their lives were a part of my life. Times have changed. How many of us know our neighbors? And how many of us care to know our neighbors? 

And what about the school mates who grew up in Newtown with the shooter? Who was his hallway buddy? Who sat next to him? Who was his lab partner? A friend observed on Facebook not long after the shooting that Sandy Hook was lucky to have such small class size. If it had been a first grade classroom where my children attended school each room would have held closer to 30 children. This is a horrible thing to contemplate. Did the young man responsible for this nightmare disappear behind large classes and indifferent teachers? How did he make it through our public school system unnoticed and unremarked on? 

At what point do other people’s children become our problem? At the point where they endanger our own children’s lives? Maybe we need to take seriously the adage “it takes a village” and then recognize that we are a part of that village. It is not enough to pull our own children close and count our blessings. I don’t know how we prevent the next Sandy Hook, but I do think we start by opening our eyes to the community around us. We need to know our neighbors; like it or not we may well be our brothers’ keepers. 

We need to pay attention to each other. Connecticut’s tragedy drives that point home, not simply because we become painfully aware of the precious time we have with the people we love, but also because it is heart-breakingly obvious that we have no knowledge of the killers among us. My young herd-bound horse is not stupid. He knows that his survival depends on the safety of the herd. The herd protects its members. Maybe we all need to be a little more “herd-bound.”


  1. I so agree with you! This is a wonderful post and deserves to be read by more people. If a parent has an anti-social child - not just a shy or introverted child, but one that really is not connected emotionally to other people - that is a red flag that should not go unnoticed. Thanks for writing this!

  2. Definitely something to contemplate! Beautifully written! I do agree our comfort behind technology has made it more awkward to carry a simple conversation.