Strangely, I can understand what's going on in the heads of people who can kill kids in Norway or kill Sikhs at a temple service or kill late-night Batman viewers or Virginia Tech students or Columbine students or an Arizona Congresswoman. I understand it quite well. I can't always put words to it, and won't try to now because I don't want to risk anyone's thinking that I intend to defend people who take life, and it's not the point of this post. If I didn't already have the skill of understanding and sometimes sharing the thoughts of even the most senselessly radical persons, though to different effect, then I certainly learned the skill on my bike ride last summer when I realized that I am much like people who own and use slaves. The fact is: I can easily wrap my head around the Wisconsin affair, the latest of the shootings that seem to be happening more and more lately, and can almost empathize with the shooters.
I don't empathize at all with the shooters, though, except that they have traveled somewhat wayward. The gap between understanding and empathizing only pains me more when I think on the life that has been lost, and lost senselessly. We live in a world where such things are possible, but they need not be. And I, for one, cannot stand much more of this. Unfortunately I perceive it as my job to explore the mindset of the shooters and the misery of the victims, and the reactions of the rest of the world. How can a writer write about what he himself cannot make real?
Ultimately for me, specifically, the shootings, in Wisconsin in particular, reveal the most profound reason why I am a writer. I hope to restore hope and trust in one another so that we do not fear the people around us. That is why I must suffer the mental hells that the shooters create for themselves, which like it or not closely mirror our own heavenly ideals, if we have heavenly ideals, and the misery of the victims. If I cannot do that then my hopeful rhetoric would fall on uncaring ears. At the same time, it is why I so greatly value the response of the Sikhs to this tragedy: an invitation to the world to come and see, see that they are nothing to be afraid of in any way.
We have built a culture of isolation that we think can live side by side with high ideals. Essentially we disconnect ourselves from any chance of real discourse with one another, especially with those who disagree. The end result is that we have lost any potential for teaching one another about ideologies and cultures, we simply rope ourselves off and say, "That is bad over there," and anyone who says, "No, I don't think so," is left in the dark to their own devices, often leading to misguided yet passionate idealism. In some ways the "liberals" and "social justice" folk have worsened the situation because in widening their field of vision a little they have more staunchly cut off cultures and ideologies they do not approve of. It's terribly sad, and for those outside the circle, terribly lonely and open to demons of all sorts.
As shy as I am, I love riding the train and talking to people around me. So I'll never forget when a young teenage Jewish girl sat down next to me separated a little from her family. I asked her she was doing and that I thought her hair was pretty friggin cool (I'm a sucker for crazy hair, especially when it's black or dyed black, and hers was black with a little bleached blonde... and she had been wearing a black fedora, which is one of my fashion trademarks but is somewhat rare nowadays, meaning that I approve all the more), and then noticed that her father was hissing at her. Trying my best not to let the father know that I heard I let her talk to him, and heard him whisper to the girl that she shouldn't talk to me, or any strangers. That was that. About half an hour later some spots near her family opened up and her father demanded that she move to one of them. If that wasn't already that, then it was then. For another couple of hours I couldn't help overhearing some of the family's conversation because I wanted to know if the father were just some jerk. But no, he and the rest of the family were quite loving, and the father often talked amiably to other passengers. Apparently he was allowed to talk to strangers. The irony of it all was that I was a seminarian student currently reading a book entitled Talmud and the Internet. I understand protecting our children, but the girl and I could have had a lovely conversation, I could have learned a lot, and the girl and father could have learned that not every stranger is to be feared.
With every shooting my mission, characterized by the train experience, seems to grow more urgent. I care about achieving a great many things with my writing, but I know that I will not be successful until we are no longer shooting Sikhs in a temple or other Muslim kids at camp, and no longer shooting students because we feel out of place or ignored or unloved.