Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The Cost of Pain

This week our nation suffered a tragedy of perhaps unprecedented scale. The age and innocence of the victims leaves us all speechless. While we all try to come to grips with the reality our minds shy away from the pain. Every other instance of similar tragedy in America pales in comparison.

When I heard about the incident yesterday morning my first reaction was “oh god, not another school shooting” and I shunted it aside so I could focus on doing the work I am responsible for. In the evening I finally allowed myself to turn on the television. I could watch the first few minutes with a cap on my emotions, calloused as they are by past experience.

Then the person on the screen said it was a school that only covered children from Kindergarten to the fourth grade. The information caught me off guard, my mind stopped working.

I broke down and wept uncontrollably, face in my hands and wracked with sobbing. Donna came and put her arm around my shoulders while I slowly brought myself under control again.

There is still too much pain in my mind to allow myself to do more than think past the thought, what that really means. I cannot be the father I need to be if I allow myself to look into that pit. This morning I can sit here and write this, wiping tears out of my eyes as the screen blurs, but soon I will move on and decorate the Christmas tree with my children.

I will not watch the news today, and I recommend you do not either. Perhaps I will stop here in my office to talk here with you a few times, perhaps I will not. There is time to think about this together, and the considered pace of the Moose will allow us the opportunity to do that here in a manner that allows the space needed.

The one thought I will provide is that while we may be prompted to fall into the pattern of past conversations regarding gun control, what value can be found in this incredible loss may be another issue. The mental health of the tragic young man who performed this horrible crime.

It may in fact be true that the incredibly unlikely 180 in American gun laws would reduce the instance of such events, but that is not likely to happen. What is going to happen due to the changes made in American healthcare insurance (if I understand the legislation) is that those with mental health concerns may begin to find help within reach. This is something we as a nation might be able to do, to find some small compensation buried in the astounding price we just paid.

In 2006 a man performed an act as close to this as we have seen. Entering an Amish school, he released his unmanageable pain and wounded five young girls, ended the lives of five others. The Amish community immediately reached out to the family of that man, offering their love and support.

I repost in whole cloth the Wikipedia section on the Amish community’s response. Herein lies the answer, I think:

On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, “We must not think evil of this man.”[15] Another Amish father noted, “He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he’s standing before a just God.”[16] Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County, explained: “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.”[15]

A Roberts family spokesman said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them.[17] Amish community members visited and comforted Roberts’ widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts’ sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him.[18] The Amish have also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter.[19] About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts’ funeral,[18] and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims.[20]

Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She wrote, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”[20] The Amish do not normally accept charity, but due to the extreme nature of the tragedy, donations were accepted. Richie Lauer, director of the Anabaptist Foundation, said the Amish community, whose religious beliefs prohibit them from having health insurance, will likely use the donations to help pay the medical costs of the hospitalized children.[21]

Some commentators criticized the quick and complete forgiveness with which the Amish responded, arguing that forgiveness is inappropriate when no remorse has been expressed, and that such an attitude runs the risk of denying the existence of evil,[22][23][24] while others were supportive.[25][26] Donald Kraybill and two other scholars of Amish life noted that “letting go of grudges” is a deeply rooted value in Amish culture, which remembers forgiving martyrs including Dirk Willems and Jesus himself. They explained that the Amish willingness to forgo vengeance does not undo the tragedy or pardon the wrong, but rather constitutes a first step toward a future that is more hopeful.[27][28]


  1. A very old friend (Mark, Gonzo to me) posted this today on FB:

    a friend, just yesterday, posted about how all things in life work like a pendulum, a theory that I have long believed to be true. Without evil, we wouldn’t have good. Without hate, we wouldn’t know love. Dark, light, you get the picture. I suppose it is up to us all to control how far that pendulum swings… today, it swung too far to one side, and it may be a while till it comes back, but it will. It has to.

    There is a cycle to things, though I have a hard time grasping the need for hate. I see more pain than hate in this, though. This young man had incredible pain so he caused incredible pain. The Amish response to the shooting in their school was the best lesson anyone ever offered to something like this: they reached out to the shooter’s family with love and compassion.

    Hatred is only really pain expressed, though it may be hard to see that for most of us, most of the time. Perhaps the wheel Gonzo is describing is better seen that way. Pain is the opposite of love, and pain provides the contrast that gives love its sharp value to us.

    I have had to not think about this event most of the day. Nothing has made me weep in recent years like this has. There is such a tremendous amount of pain involved in this event that I can only sit here writing this because I am not yet really thinking directly about it. That may be the best I can do out loud for now, but since the pain of the shooter is what caused all the rest perhaps that is the pain we can address in the future which can prevent the exponentially greater pain he caused.

    The one comment I have seen today that gives any hope of a path out of this – not just today, but other similar events we have here in my country – was regarding the lack of access to mental health care here. In Canada the healthcare system provides not just medical but mental health care as well, here the cost of psychological care is beyond the ability of most people. If this person, the Portland, Aurora Colorado, Gabriel Giffords shooter and so many others could have had help – without the need for thousands of dollars cash excluding them from it – perhaps we would not all be here struggling with this.

    We are doing something wrong here in America. Guns themselves cannot be the whole problem, Canada and other places have them as well. It may be that the price we pay for failing to help those with pain in their minds is even greater than we pay for not helping those with pain in their bodies.

  2. I hope you’re right, Chris, that increased access to mental health care will reduce the incidence of these horrific assaults — though, given this country’s enthusiastic embrace of violence, I doubt it can ever end them.  Then too, yesterday’s knife attack in China by another disturbed man that left 22 schoolchildren hurt (none killed) suggests that there’s something dark and twisted inside all of humanity that makes total eradication of such horrors impossible.

    Meanwhile, the airways are flooded with the usual aftermath of these mass assaults — Goddamn!  That one can even say “usual aftermath” is dreadfully telling of the canker within this society, isn’t it?  Short term, I see no hope of anything other than the same dreary arguments from the same blinkered proponents of the same well-worn talking points.

    Jim Wright said everything I’m thinking now, and more, and far better, in his July 21 blogpost following the Aurora theater massacre:

    And more, five days later:

    No point in trying to excerpt quotes or paraphrase; the entireties deserve to be read, and I can’t say it any better.

    So today and tomorrow and as long as it takes for another outrage, another sensation to displace this story, I will try to avoid the media and its wallowing in the latest episode of a never-ending horror story.

  3. …suffer mental distress, I’m quite sure you’re right and once again celebrate the socialised healthcare here in Europe which makes many of these services free at the point of use. It’s much much cheaper than the alternatives

    On the other hand, given the context of the events of yesterday I have to wonder why we ask questions about mental health after the ‘lone wolf’ atrocity when, for example, many suicide bombers show very similar symptomalogies

    Is it really anything to do with mental illness when – if you look at the stats – those diagnosed with some kind of psychiatric condition have only a marginally higher propensity to violence  

  4. DTOzone

    part of it is because of this, left on Facebook by a liberal friend of mine

    Why does every tragedy in America have to be turned into a debate about the government and what they could have done/should do? Grieve for the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary and have compassion for their families, but PLEASE!! leave your political rhetoric out of it!

    There isn’t the political will to end this, because there just isn’t any political will.  

  5. creamer

    that empathy for those who don’t measure up our standards seems lacking. A significant amount of americans do not believe everyone should have healthcare. As long as the people important to them are protected, they care little about the rest. Beit lack of inteligence, lack of effort or talent or just bad luck, its not their problem. Born into poverty and a poor school system, pull yourself up others have.

    I’ve never understood why. Is it just too many different cultures in the same pot that make a feeling of national community so hard to find?

     Its easy to aknowledge all the things that our country has accomplished, its a lot harder to be proud of us.

  6. The victims and the parents and families involved have my deepest sympathies. The surviving family members of the young man who perpetrated this event have my deepest sympathies.

    To Peter’s point above, now that I have some detail I understand and want to underline what you said: Asperger’s Syndrome is not an indicator of violence. This is not the form of mental illness we need be concerned with.

    If I see anything in this incident that can be discussed to lead us in a positive direction it may be a conversation about fear and isolation. If reports are correct about the source of the weapons it indicates a state of mind created inside a home that is all too common. A belief in a state of the world that is incorrect, a belief in impending doom and a fear of others.

    “Doomsday Preppers” – encouraged by the Glenn Becks of the world or the Texas Darlin’s – embracing and fostering fear, drawing inward instead of engaging outward. A combined popular cynicism about the future of our species and the basic nature of human beings. Constant one-to-one, group and media repetition of the idea that hope is naive and faith in the intrinsic goodness of human nature is foolish.

    This goes far beyond partisan politics. These are beliefs supported and fed by individuals and groups across the political spectrum. It is a cultural mental illness that permeates the fabric of our society.

    The world is not getting worse, it is getting better in almost every way. The people we see around us are not intrinsically evil, they are intrinsically good.

    We each as individuals have to stop holding the false and unfounded belief that there is no hope. We have to stop repeating it to each other. We have to stop teaching it to our children through our words and our actions.

    We need more than better access to mental health care, though I believe we need that. We need more than fewer guns, though I believe we would be better off without them. What we need most is to stop feeding our fears, stop withdrawing, stop thinking the worst of ourselves and others.

    The world is not getting worse, it is getting better in almost every way. The people we see around us are not intrinsically evil, they are intrinsically good.

    This is the truth. This is what I see around myself. The human race is worthy and wonderful. The future of our species is more full of joy than sorrow. You can trust both those you know and those you do not.

    If you are conservative, do not believe that liberals are evil, they are not. If you are liberal do not believe that conservatives are evil, they are not. Do not believe that mankind is a cancer on the earth, it is not. Do not believe that mankind is doomed, we are not. Do not believe that we cannot solve every single challenge we face, we can. Do not believe you have to fear the world, you do not have to.

    These beliefs we hold and repeat – across and within political boundaries – are lies. They are untrue. They lead to despair, the lead to violence, and they are false.

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