Joanne Palmer: Finding compassion
July 24, 2012
Skyscrapers used to be safe. Airplanes used to safe. Movie theaters used to be safe. Then Friday happened. Twelve people dead. Fifty-eight injured. College students. A redheaded hockey blogger. A man celebrating his 27th birthday. A father. A 6-year-old girl.
A gunman opened fired in Aurora and changed the way we think about going to the movies. Like most people, I was in shock. Then disbelief. Nothing bad happens at the movies. Bad things happen on the big screen. Cars crashes. Exploding buildings. Shoot-outs. But watching a movie, any movie, has been such a safe pastime. Now, all that has changed.
How do these things happen? How do you make sense of the incomprehensible? Who can buy 6,000 rounds of ammunition without anyone asking questions? We spend billions for homeland security, but along comes a brilliant kid from San Diego with access to guns and ammo, and it doesn't pop up on anyone's radar screen? How is that possible? Why is anyone allowed to buy assault weapons? If his gun hadn't jammed, more people likely would be dead.
My heart aches for everyone involved.
When I was the mother of a newborn son, hormones and sleep deprivation made me cry a lot, but one thing in particular made me sob: I cried at the sight of Timothy McVeigh, being led away in handcuffs in his orange prison garb. I cried because somewhere I knew his mother's heart was breaking into a thousand pieces. His parents divorced when he was 10, and he was raised mostly by his father, but at some point his mother had fed him and changed his diaper and watched him take his first tentative steps and held onto a thousand dreams for her son.
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Sometime soon, a mother lying in a hospital bed will learn her 6-year-old daughter has been shot and killed. She, too, will have fed her daughter, changed her diaper, watched her take her wobbly steps and held on to a thousand hopes and dreams for her.
Love is easy when our loved ones do everything we deem is right. Our kids bring home good report cards, are obedient and clean their rooms. It's easy to love our spouses when they remember our birthdays, take us out for dinner and hug us at the end of a long day. Love isn't easy when something goes dreadfully wrong, when a father has to board an airplane in California to visit his 24-year-old son, James Holmes, in a Colorado prison. When your child is accused of the unthinkable, love may seem impossible.
Compassion for the victims is easy. But compassion for the suspected shooter is really, really hard. It's easy to think, "Oh, my kids would never do that. His parents must have screwed up." I doubt we ever will know what his motive was. I suspect there wasn't one. But looking at his picture online yesterday with a confused face beneath orange hair, I felt a brief moment of sadness. If there is any hope in anything, it's seeing people as human. That precisely was the point McVeigh's mother made to the jury. "My son is not a monster. Only human."
Monsters can't change. People can. Our humanity is compromised the minute we stop seeing people as humans.
It is our job to dig deep and find a shred of compassion. The word compassion originally is from the Latin words "com," meaning with, and "pati," meaning to suffer. With suffering. I think we have to find it in our hearts to do that. It doesn't mean fixing or empathizing or forgiving. Just recognizing suffering. It doesn't excuse his behavior. Not at all.
But hate doesn't make the world a better place. Only love. As hard as that is.
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