Last Friday was supposed to be the grand release of Peter Jackson's first installemnt of "The Hobbit".
I had it marked on my calendar since the movie's release date was announced.
I love Tolkien.
I love the Lord of the Rings, I love The Hobbit, I love the Silmarillion… I love Tolkien's relationship with CS Lewis… I love how his faith permeated his writings…
But the massacre at Sandy Hook on Friday obliterated all expectation of any film. No, this isn't a critique about whether or not people should have kept their pre-ordered tix to see the long-awaited flick. In my own stunned-ness, all desire to bury myself in Middle Earth vanished. Don't worry, I'll see it later on when I'm ready. And if I don't, I don't think it really matters.
The families of all of the victims are enduring hell-on-earth. Trying to imagine all of what happened and the grief they are now carrying is impossible.
This post isn't to draw attention to me, nor is it meant to detract from the people who need the most support, love and care.
However… the revelation that Adam Lanza had Aspergers Syndrome has spread like wildfire across the world. While some people have thoughtfully spoken out already about the circumstance, there have been many, many brutal and cruel comments/reactions hurled at people with autism, advocates for people with autism, and people with mental illness.
I hate what happened at Sandy Hook. Children and youth are my passion, and I still can't think too hard about what transpired. Otherwise the insanity of it all will overwhelm me repeatedly.
However, I would respectfully yet forcefully ask all people: will you please do your homework?
The link above suggests that Lanza's Aspergers had little to do with his actions. I do not know how AS affected his life, how many times he had been sent to see counsellors or specialists or if he had ever been committed. I do not know if he had co-morbid conditions (mental health conditions living alongside AS at the same time), or if he even perhaps had been misdiagnosed.
People with AS are as different between one another as neurotypicals are (people not on the autism spectrum). To dare suggest that because someone has AS/autism, s/he WILL commit a crime or a violent act is cowardly.
And deeply wounding.
As an Aspie, I know what it's like to live inside a world where the mind and heart are lost (those are on the bad days; on the good days, I'm in worlds very few others experience and it can be rather exhilirating). I don't mean a few days "with the blues". I mean, having no concept of time, space, hope or health. Dimensions are tilted at angles that appear wondrous and chaotic, yet no one else around me seems to see that. Most days, I don't feel "human" in the sense that humanity has defined being human. I'm a creature in this strange body that doesn't want to work together within itself or the outside world.
Let's set some things straight:
1. Aspergers is NOT a mental illness or a personality disorder. It is a neurobiological condition — a shaping of the brain from in utero development. To say that Aspies or autists will "get better" is ignorant. We will develop coping skills and will learn to adapt in many ways. But we also have gifts and perspectives others do not. Unless God re-shapes our brains, we are set for life. PDDs (Pervasive Developmental Disorders) cover it in the name: we are hardwired in certain ways.
2. Having a mental illness is not shameful. By mental illness I mean conditions such as depression, anxiety, schizphrenia and related disorders, personality disorders, etc. People with AS often have such co-morbid conditions occuring at the same time, but not everyone with depression has AS. The stigma surrounding mental illness is still so taboo that many keep their illnesses a deep secret. Isolation makes any condition worse. The whole "do not worry" schtick from Christ's teachings gets warped here. If I had a dollar for the number of times I've been admonished to not worry when really it was anxiety/depression I was battling, I'd be able to pay off my student loans.
3. Lashing out at people who plead for mercy for those with mental illnesses or PDDs is hateful, hurtful, and useless. People appear to be assuming that because we are asking for a more insightful, thoughtful response to people who commit violent crimes who struggle(d) with such conditions, we are automatically siding with "the bad people". It is a wrong assumption and poor logic at best. It again polarizes us with the "us or them" mentality, which has divided nations, churches, families and communities. It is a poor stance, yet we seem to learn little from our misconceptions. I despise what Lanza did as much as the next person, but to place the blame morally in stark relief entirely rejects other mitigating circumstances or explanations… and valid explanations are not excuses, as much as we wish to accuse otherwise. Excuses are excuses, yes. I can't deny that either.
I understand people are angry and hurting right now. Many words will be taken back in repentance after the shock has perhaps given way to true sorrow. I'm trying to be patient with this, as people are being patient with one another in the ways we are all grieving.
We have tried blaming entire groups before based on the actions of a few. Have we not learned?
Black skin does not a gangsta make.
White skin does not a supremecist make.
Christian faith does not a fundamentalist make.
Muslim faith does not an extremist make.
Mental illness/PDDs does not a violent person make… but if it is shown to be a contributing factor, until you know precisely the horror of living inside a world from which you cannot find any escape, try to commit suicide to release your family from their pain of having you to deal with, find it impossible to see the world as others do, see no light but hear scary voices, and… have the world against you because "You don't believe in Jesus enough"… or… "it's no excuse for bad behaviour"… or "you're not trusting God at all, are you?"…
… perhaps then you might be able to offer some deeper responses other than the knee-jerk reactions that are popping up everywhere.
I am high-functioning as the spectrum goes. Yet even I am struggling with how to respond to the venom being poured out on people with mental illness. The scarier thing is: there are many, many more people who have less capacity to speak out for themselves and are continually at-risk for our stigma, shame, shunning, and spit.
Please… no more scapegoating?