This I Believe

A. B. - Escondido, California
Entered on April 19, 2007
Age Group: 65+


The Amish people taught me something important after the school shooting in Pennsylvania. When they distributed donations to families of the victims, the dead gunman’s family was also included. Their forgiveness showed the hidden connection between “them” and “us.” The horror at Blacksburg has also revealed it.

As a society, I don’t believe we can “cure” ourselves of Charles Manson without eliminating a place for Mother Teresa. It’s the consequence we pay for the richness of our possibilities. Sometimes, like Virginia Tech, the price seems too high.

When such an alarm is sounded, we naturally want to start fixing “them,” the perpetrators on the edge of society. But it is to us “us,” the norm, that we must look, for we always see our own reflection in our outer limits.

I believe that what each of us does on a daily basis impacts our fellow man. I believe we are all in this life together, test as we will the limits of our togetherness.

“They” can go pretty far out with “their” isolation, “their” wickedness, “their” victimhood, and “their” abnormality. But go as far as they will, “their” limits are reciprocally tethered to “our” central norm. It is “our” moving norm that escalates “their” limits.

All deviance is deviance from the norm. “They” can’t be “off-beat” without some connection to the beat itself. What can “they” do, really, with the despair of their alienation unless they do it upon the common ground they share with “us”?

This is true of every hermit, murderous mad bomber or school shooter. The school shooters are the ones who break our hearts. They also warn us, like canaries in a mine. If the norm is wading too deep in the waters of violent entertainment, ubiquitous pornography, unsupervised children and alienated families, then those on the fringes of society will drown. And they will inexorably intertwine themselves with the norm in their last deadly embrace.

I believe we are each hooked cosmically into the unsplittable atom of “us all.” As such, we have to ask ourselves, what did I put out into the world that ended up at Blacksburg, Virginia?

It is “them” that tells us in raw terms who “we” really are. We are most clearly defined by our extremes, rather than by our normal humdrums, either individually or culturally. It is not what we do right that most solidly defines us, but when we pull back from wrong directions; when out of our own experience we can say with authority for ourselves, “THIS and NOT THAT.”

“We” think violence is “out there.” We are always surprised to find it roosting on our own doorstep. Maybe the only way “we” will ever understand “their” violence is to first see our own.

“We” kill with judgment, coldness and indifference toward those on our path whom we dismiss as “losers? “They” kill with guns and knives. We shrink from the bloody scene, doubly horrible because we only kill the thing we really want to love.

I believe this is the sacred connection between “them” and “us,” between the norm and its limits; the degree of brutality in the failure to love only serves to show us the extent of the capacity for love if it hadn’t failed.