Friday, January 18, 2013

Legacy of Senseless Violence

By S. Derrickson Moore LAS CRUCES — Most of us like the idea of starting the new year with a clean slate, especially in a year with so much December bad news. The planet is still here, but for too many, the world as we knew it did end. And for many, many more — the “survivors” — life will never be quite the same. They will adjust, and begin to heal, and the agonizing pain will gradually ease. There will even be moments of joy again. The fortunate will find the grace, the relief, perhaps, of forgiveness, or the occupation of service or some way of building something new, of reaching outward. But they will not forget. I am always touched by the hopeful headlines and thought pieces (usually crafted by very young journalists and counselors) that offer something like, “ways to help children make sense of violent tragedies.” We old hands know that this is an impossible task. Sometimes, you can trace warnings and omens, and you can search for helpful coping mechanisms, and tales of heroism and survival. But you’ll never make “sense” of mass shootings by madmen. That’s why we call it “senseless” violence. Those closest to ground zeros, and their loved ones, will always be hit the hardest. A lifelong indelible imprint is left by close proximity to terror: a sensory tattoo that glows neon with each new assault, a scar that never quite heals and aches when fresh violence is in the air. I was reminded of all this in a holiday terror season that started before the Sandy Hook tragedy. A long-time best friend called from Oregon to tell me about finding herself close to the shooter who opened fire at the Clackamas Town Center Mall on Dec. 11, killing two and seriously wounding a third before killing himself. By week’s end, the incident seemed to have nearly vanished from the mass media, lost in the greater numbers and horrors of the elementary school massacre, adding to the surreal stress of conversations with my traumatized friend, trying to navigate the traumas of her own experience. I listened as she relived the angst of trying to find her companions at the mall (a place we’d helped start a new library together in happier days). She tried to convey the sound of the shots, repeated again and again in staccato bursts in her mind, as she tried to describe her shouted warnings, her fall and attempts to get up, as crowds stampeded outside. I listened and reassured her that she had done all she could, and maybe a bit more, as a senior citizen who had taken a bad fall in a crisis. She and her friends were not among the shooting victims, and finally managed to find one another after leaving the mall. But a kind of survivor’s guilt seemed to persist. There was nothing post-traumatic about the syndrome that plagued so many of us that week. When the firefighters were shot in a crazed arsonist’s lair, all of us worried about the brave first responders we know and love, and my thoughts instantly lurched to the maimed face of a beloved family friend, shot in the line of duty, half a century ago. My visiting soulmate talked about the day when a graduate student in his quiet university town killed four members of the faculty and one student, and seriously wounded another student, before committing suicide. It was over 20 years ago, and might have been yesterday. I thought of my grandson, who in 2011 lost two very good friends, two talented teens, shot by their father, previously thought to be a loving pillar of the community. I knew without asking that Alex and his mom, Shannon, a close friend of the lost boys’ surviving mom, would be feeling a fresh ache for a senseless loss. I thought about the time we reached Borderland critical mass in the Juarez murders, when all of us personally knew at least one, and sometimes several, innocent victims who have been gunned down. And I wondered, when will we finally reach the time when we will change our lives and attitudes, as our lives have been forever changed? When will that echoing gunfire inspire a real transformation? And I pray it will be soon. S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at 575-541-5450. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore.

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