Reflections on the tragedy in Newtown

chaliceBy Rev. Frieda Gillespie

The beauty of this holiday season was certainly tainted by the stark reminder from Newtown, Connecticut, of the capacity of human beings in our brokenness to destroy others. I know that we have all been grieving for the families of the 20 children and six adults killed in Newtown by a young man who we may never understand. The fact that he was able to access automatic weapons is something for which we all have to take responsibility. Unless these weapons are banned with strict enforcement, more atrocities will occur, and ultimately we are the ones who decide that.

There will be new legislation regarding gun control proposed, and we can support it by contacting our senators, congressmen, and congresswomen to demand their support for it. We can make it known wherever possible how we feel about weapons that fire 800 to 1,000 rounds per minute being in the hands of private citizens. I’m not even sure I want them in the hands of the military. I heard a clergyman on television talking about “holy impatience.” I think that is what we need to motivate us to speak up and out about gun control. We mustn’t be patient with people who are entertained by shooting guns or who think that having assault weapons will protect them. If you have any doubts about the importance of gun control, read this thoughtful op-ed from the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof, which is online here.

I also hope that people will understand that autism doesn’t make people violent. Autistic people can react with extreme fear and resistance to stimulation that wouldn’t affect a typical person. But being autistic doesn’t make a person any more violent than a typical person. There are children, however, who grow up with a personality that alienates them from others, which leads to a dwindling spiral of rejection and hostility from others and within the child. Couple that stress with a high IQ, and you may have a child who one day explodes into violent acts. There is no easy treatment for personality disorders, and it is rare for a parent to be able to cope with the violence that such a child presents. There should be help for these families, and there is for some in some cases, but not nearly enough — and not nearly enough is known about how to treat them. For a beautiful description of life with such a child, here is a courageous article by a woman whose 13-year-old is deeply troubled for no apparent reason.

I can relate to her because of what I went through with my daughter, who isn’t autistic but can be violent and lacks empathy for others. She and I were very fortunate to be living in Massachusetts, where there are services available for her. We were lucky to get those services and to have the promise of adult residential services ahead. Not all parents are able to ask for help or able to receive real help when they do ask. Even so, there is so much we don’t know about this type of mental illness, how to help those who have are afflicted with it, and how to help families who are held hostage by it.

May we cultivate a “holy impatience” for dangers that can be reduced or eliminated, and may we approach the problems of the mentally ill and their families with compassion and intelligence. If we could do this as a nation, so many more people would have a happy new year.

One thought on “Reflections on the tragedy in Newtown

  1. Sigh, big sigh. I so agree with your thoughts, Frieda. I also agree that mentally disturbed folks should not be grouped as a whole and “put in a box” for easy storage. Each individual has their own unique way of being and thinking, which we can never fully understand. What we do need to work on is our reaction and response to them, and to the situation which invites ANYONE to use a gun. Our society is in crisis and needs some serious mending. If not, we are at war with ourselves. Thank you for posting this important response. I will be proud to sign petitions against gun use, and also ammunition. the guns that are out there already might be harder to use if ammunition was not so readily available. I will not praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!
    I will continue to make drum circles available as a way to bring people into an inclusive society together. I found a very interesting article about this very subject of bringing isolated youth and trouble veterans of wars together and out of social isolation, which is a thing that is often common to these angry folks who commit such violent acts.
    Here it is, one of many I’ve seen lately. It may not seem as important as signing an anti-gun petition, but it IS another important component for peace.

    With love and faith that we can make changes,
    – Andrea Sweeney