Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Quiet Ones

Another rampage at a public school. More children dead. A child with unknown motives in custody. A community, and a nation, asking "Why?" The incessant and familiar refrain: "He was quiet."

And as the old saw goes: it's always the quiet ones.

Why? Why was he "quiet?" Quiet compared to what? Was he mute? Did he not raise his hand in class? Did he not talk about his home life, or school, or girls, or football? One girl said: "He didn't speak up for himself much." Why would he have to?

We know what went on here, even if we don't know. Here was a boy who felt he had to deal with whatever was troubling him by exacting revenge in the most violent fashion. He had a purpose, he had a plan, and we may never know either with certainty, but we do know what he did, and his innocence is assured by the Constitution but his guilt is written in blood on a cafeteria floor.

What happened? We know. We know in our hearts, in our minds, in the distant and dim recesses of our memory. We remember high school. We remember cliques. We remember who was popular and who wasn't. We remember being picked on. We remember the unremitting degradation at the hands of and through the words of others. We remember going home to find solace, only to be cast into more turmoil of an even more personal nature. We remember going to a room, closing a door, trying to shut it all out, wishing the pain and humiliation would magically abate, blown away as dust in the gale.

We have felt the pain, the sorrow, the lamentation of another day in those "hallowed" halls, wherein torment lies. We have been witness to it, perpetrator of it, or victim, but we know it. The artificial social environment that is the American high school is a well-oiled machine, grinding up and spitting out children on the doorstep of adulthood, with the same rigorous machinations for children now as existed back when we, too, ambulated among the lockers and classrooms. Names, faces, and sneakers may change, but there is always the undercurrent of "Us" versus "Them" that clings to every surface, that adheres to every nascent Freshman soul, and permeates the atmosphere like a sickly and awkward fog. The subdivisions are artificial, highly dubious, and maintained with a Machiavellian tenacity that survives the generations, not unlike the spore of a virulent plague.

The meaning of Chardon, Ohio is as clear to us as day, but as impenetrable to the popularity-obsessed culture in which we reside as the blackest, Moon-less night. We know in our heads what happened, but our minds will not accept the reality of the situation, preferring pat answers and off-the-cuff observations to truth. We refuse to acknowledge that far from the responsibility of the young man who did the killing, each and every one of us had a hand in this moment, where we could not act or where we tacitly supported those concepts that led to a moment of panic and ultimately, death. We have built the society that glorifies blood, that pampers the popular, that places looks above smarts, and that continues to perpetuate stereotypes that have no business being part of our culture. We give implicit approval to a society that speaks volumes on its problems, but is silent on solutions.

This boy will face his punishment and serve his sentence, both within and without. He will be condemned by our nation, as much as he was condemned to a life that led to these circumstances by that self-same nation, where the well-known problems of our society are left to run riot while we tune in our favorite show on the television, the one where the problems are always solved, or at least, mitigated. We pull down the blinds and peer at our screens, content to live in our world vicariously, while outside the door, poverty, malnutrition, poor education, and the many ills of society wander loose, to collect the souls of the unwanted and the unloved. This moment, like Columbine before it, is the warning; let us pray it does not take another such moment to rouse us from our insularity. Our youth cannot afford the cost.

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