Brother’s Keeper

Victoria SotoVictoria Soto, 27, hid her students in the cabinets and closets before the gunman stormed in. She told him they were in the gym, then he shot her dead.

Some 20 families in CT will have children missing at Christmas next week. Children who would have been there, opening presents in their jammies. These children will also be missing at graduation, at their weddings, as their parents grow old. My heart breaks.

But my heart is grateful for Victoria Soto–without her presence of mind and sacrifice, twice as many families would be missing their children. No love is greater than to die for someone else. I’m pretty sure Victoria’s job description did not include, “Sacrifice life for children if necessary.” Yet something drove her, something about responsibility and protection and love. Something about belonging to each other in some way in community.

What about the shooter? I wonder in what ways we belong to him. Why he and so many, many Americans have no community. These horrific events are often met with, “Oh yes, he was our neighbor. He was quiet and a little odd.” What obligation do we have as community? We can’t arrest somebody for being quiet and a little odd.

Just today, a relative told me his doctor diagnosed him as “homicidal with psychotic delusions of grandeur.” What? I stared at him. I knew his family as a child and it was horrifying. Is he capable of a shooting spree like this one? I don’t think so–but I don’t know. What do I do with this information? What about the doctor who diagnosed it–what obligation does he have?

What is the role of community? Because this man is not the only one. Thousands of people are out there, on psych meds, which they may or may not take, which may or may not prevent the demons that drive them to such hideous action. Victoria Soto felt enough instinctive obligation to sacrifice herself for those children. What obligation do we have as a community toward the mentally ill to provide a safety net, talking such people down from the ledge before this happens?

As this story broke on Fox News, Megyn Kelly asked Dr. Keith Ablow in desperation: “How could anyone shoot a kingergarten full of babies?” An unthinkable horror. I found his answer surprisingly illuminating.

“The terrible sense that you are disempowered and spiritually dead makes you create in the world an awful canvas representing your interior world… that you project the fragmented nature of your internal world. The fact that you feel decimated, you create the symbol of that–an awful, terrible, monstrous symbol of it–as if this will be your legacy, that you have finally spoken, and shown everyone how you’ve been feeling inside. That’s the terrible, awful truth.”

Our broad nation is full of disenfranchised people who live in a fragmented and decimated interior world, people who are designed (as we all are) to need to be loved and to belong in community. What can we do for and with these people, and what obligation do we have to do it? Not doing it is extracting an increasingly high price.

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