I have been silent so far on this tragedy, the killing of innocent children. I don’t have enough information. I want to know about this young man’s mother, about his father, about his childhood. There is always an “answer,” and yet, everyone seems to have a dfferent idea of what that answer may be. In fact, our propensity towards being convinced that we all know the “answer” has contributed greatly to our violent history, when really we don’t know much of anything. We are no nearer to understanding what matters–those cliched questions “who am I?” “how did I get here?”, “what is the meaning of life?”; and what is “truth,” who is “right” and who is “wrong”? We have some sort of compulsion to want to know the answers and we come up with answers through the stories that we tell ourselves. My best friend was Casey Cohen, private investigator who worked on many of the most notorious death penalty cases in the country. His last case before he passed away from cancer was that of Jeremy Stromeyer, the young man who took the little girl into the bathroom in the Reno casino and killed her. Casey worked for the defense in many such cases. He came to know the “monsters” of our society. His job was to tell the story of the killer’s life, go back in time and explain what had led up to the present. Because there is always a past, there are always reasons leading up to the heinous act. Casey would say that these people are not monsters, they are human beings, like you and me. He would say that if I were Jeremy Stromeyer, if I had lived his exact life, I would have done as he had done–because I would have been him. What makes one person react in one way and someone else react differently. What makes one person a drug addict and another person not? The one who is not attracted to drugs cannot look down his nose on the person who is. It is simply the way we are. The person who faces a life long battle with drugs and tries to overcome is more worthy of respect than the one who never has a problem! Yet we demonize the drug addict. I was married to two abusive men. My first husband almost killed me by strangling me. Yet I never thought of killing him. Why? I don’t know. Most women on death row are there because they have killed an abusive spouse–or their own children. Does that make me better than them? No, it only means I had a different past that led me to the present choice of not killing, whereas those women, when presented with that moment of choice, did what every moment before had led them to do–to kill. And I am me and you are you because of our genetic structure, because of our upbringing, because of a billion little things that have molded each of us. This means that we are all who we are, not because we are good or bad, not because we choose to be a certain way, but because we have been built little bt little by genes and circumstances and the stories that we have told ourselves along the way to solidify in our own minds who we are and why.
In my book A Dangeorus Woman I have a section where I go into the mind of a killer, Jimmy Luna, and I explain what he did and why, from his perspective. I read over a 1,000 pages of court documents, I interviewed many people, and Casey opened my mind to the killer’s world, so I would be able to understand him to the best of my ability before talking about him. Luna stabbed a man numerous times and cut off his penis. As a child, Luna’s father hung him from a tree–that is just one of a long list of horrific circumstances. I have never been hung from a tree. I do not know how it would affect me if this had happened to me. If I had had Luna’s exact background, I would have done exaclty what he did because I would have been him.
We are a violent and perverse race. We justify certain actions while demonizing others. It is somehow okay to go into another country and kill and maim in war, yet it is a crime to go into your neighbor’s house on your street and do that same thing. One is “Justified” by the stories that we tell ourselves, so that we can live with ourselves in society, while the other is an evil act of an individual maniac. None of this makes any sense. Yet in order to stay sane, we have become adept at telling ourselves stories, as individuals and as societies to justify our own actions. Really, all that we know for sure is that we live–short or long–and we die. The fact that any of it matters is all in our heads.
Having said that, I want to live a life of meaning. I want to do something “good” with my life. That is the story that I have come up with and it is what gives my life meaning. We all need meaning because we are intelligent beings who have a strong sense of “self.”
This young man who killed these children had reasons for his actions, just as our politicians and corporate leaders have reasons for the massive bloodshed that they cause. I don’tknow what the answer is. I don’t think there is an answer because we are all too much in the middle of this mess. We are like ants who have crawled up on a blade of grass and think we see the world when we haven’t even explored the front lawn. We cannot even begin to comprehend how limited we are. We have just enough self awarenes (I was going to say intelligence, but I think self-awareness is a better term) to think that we have important stories to tell that make sense. But we aren’t enlightened or honest enough, or something of that sort, to accept that our stories are just that–stories. There is something really wrong with the set-up of humanity on this planet. We inundate ourselves with “information” yet it is information signifying nothing. Somehow along the line, we went down the wrong path. Any beautiful thing that humanity has created has its dark side. Look at a cathedral, so beautiful, to worship God. And yet, the politics, the power, the control that the church exerts over those who walk into that church–the “little people. Is it not obvious that over and over and over and over down through history, it is the same story–those in power use and abuse those who don’t have power. It’s all perverse and it does not change.
So when we look at the senseless act of a lone gunman killing innocent children, we must find justifications, reasons why it was just him, experts to come forward to explain why he did what he did. And then, we can hear about the heroes–the teachers who shielded the children and gave their lives. But how sick this all is–that we must find ways to make ourselves feel better about something that we should never feel better about. No act of heroism can ever overcome the dark side of humanity. Because in order for heroism to occur, something evil has to happen. That is the disturbing thing about the set-up of this world.
I am rambling on here, I am aware. But this is what i talk about in my book that I have been writing and I am completely filled with it in my mind and heart. The question of “free will.” Less and less do I believe in such a concept. less and less do I believe in good and evil. More and more do I believe that we are ants desperately fighting with each other to climb onto a blade of grasssop we can look down our noses at those below, willing to kill in order to be above, to stand out, to have a moment of meaning, before we die ourselves, living lives of fear of the unknown–with a media that more and more feeds on that fear. I am one of those ants, by writing this, I contribute to the desperation of trying to figure it all out when I am incapable of doing so. But I am compelled to try, or what else would I do with my life that would give it meaning?