Friday, April 26, 2013

Dead in Her Bed, Ignored by the World

Shot in the head four times while she lay in bed, a mother died by the hands of her own son.

Her name was Nancy Lanza. She was the first to be murdered by her son. She wasn't the last. The young man went on to murder 20 school children and six school teachers. It was the second largest school shooting in the United States.

For many, that's the last we heard of Nancy Lanza. Her death is mostly obliterated in official death counts and memorial services. Even our president neglected to mention her death while memorializing the tragic loss of children and teachers.

Media reports subtly blame this tragedy on Lanza. Some reports characterize her as a caring but misguided woman who was in over her head trying to raise a difficult child. Other less subtle articles depict her as a monstrous and vile woman who unleashed terror on the world of innocents because she owned guns and failed to properly lock those guns up.

We might as well be direct here: many just flat out blame Nancy Lanza. It would be more honest if media just said it: She asked for it. If she didn't want to die she shouldn't have guns. It's her fault.

Strange how that logic is offensive if we are talking about women being raped but appropriate if we are talking about women being murdered. We've got some work to do here. We can be better than this.

Yesterday my Twitter feed was filled with requests to vote for a Webby Award to be given to the journalist Ann Curry for creating and promulgating the #26Acts hashtag. The #26Acts campaign is a lovely, sweet, and beautiful idea. It's also an idea that irritates me each and every time I see the hashtag.

Why is it that some murders are memorialized and while others are ignored? Why don't we ever hear of Nancy Lanza? Why does her death not matter?

There were 27 murdered that day in December. Each one mattered and none should be ignored. Age, innocence, or behaviors should have no bearing on mourning the tragic loss of human life.

Nancy Lanza--whoever she was as a person--died in her bed that morning.  In her death we've collectively turned her into the hated other--the person who isn't like us.

We've replaced an actual woman with a straw woman of sorts--a caricature of a person who resembles what we need her to be. Devoid of actual facts, we've created a representation of Nancy as a vile and monstrous woman who failed to lock up her guns. She isn't like us--she is the other--that person who didn't protect our innocence and our young with her careless ways.

The other bears all the responsibility for the trauma so we can take no ownership for our own portion of responsibility.

We don't mourn the other: we hate it. We project everything about our own selves into the hated other that we cannot tolerate or see. In doing so, we pretend that somehow it is someone else's responsibility for the violence that is in our world. The guns we own, the abuse we inflict on each other, and the valorization of violence and aggression in our society becomes the responsibility of someone else, the other. 

We'd be just fine if it wasn't for those awful horribly nasty people--the hated other.

Nancy Lanza was transformed from a living human being into a reflection of the parts of ourselves we least want to look at and think about. When you think about Nancy Lanza, you are actually thinking about yourself.

Do Nancy some justice in this world: we've turned her into a monster--now take the time to see that the monster you see is a reflection of a part of yourself.


Now of course, there was one more death that day. One more person was lost--probably lost long before those twenty-seven people died. A young man, just 20 years old, lost in complicated ways we do not understand, picked up those weapons and gunned down his mother, six educators, and twenty young children. His acts were horrific and he is responsible for his crimes.

Yet if you care to look deeply enough into Adam Lanza, you'll still see reflections of yourself. You'll still find parts of your own shadow self reflected back at you. If you can dare to look and own those parts--that's the very moment that you'll be forever changed and transformed for the better.

Not popular to suggest an act of kindness for Nancy Lanza.

Even less popular to suggest an act of kindness for Adam Lanza.

I think he mattered too, in his death, in his madness, and in his complete loss of humanity. He was a person who committed a horrible act against humanity. Yet still, he was a person.

I lose my own humanity when I respond with cruelty or hate toward the Adam Lanzas of the world--no matter how monstrous or evil their deeds are. We can hold someone responsible for their crimes yet remain compassionate for them and our selves. We can hold someone responsible for their crimes without becoming violent ourselves.

So with that:


The final act of kindness, for Adam, is really an act of kindness for ourselves. To release ourselves from our own violent ways, we need to recognize the violence within each of us--own it--hold it--and make the choice to act with kindness.

In his death, Adam can help us see our own evil and hate that we desperately try to pour into him so we do not need to address it within ourselves.

Just imagine what might happen if you looked deeply in the eyes of the other and for a moment saw yourself. How might the world be a different place?

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