Friday, April 24, 2009

Me and Columbine

It's very hard to write about things that are so personal--the mere scratching of the itch to discuss them, tears huge pieces off my hide.

So, I speak in a roundabout way, and hope you will all forgive me for being so imprecise with the details. I invite you to read between the lines. At this point, my vivid, emotional memories overlap another person's very intense memories, and her account of these events will be radically different. (How to honor both of our accounts? Is it possible?)

I remember the date of Columbine very well, because it was on the second anniversary of Columbine, that my own teenage daughter ran away from home. (It was 2001, the year so much else happened to rock our universe.)

And already, she would phrase it differently. She would say she didn't "run away"--she needed space, she needed a breather from her parents; she needed to be somewhere else for awhile, blah blah blah. But of course, the disconcerting fact is that she decided this for herself, for the first time in her life. It was a decision that did not include us, the people who had been making all of her decisions up until that point. It was her decision as a separate, sentient human being. An adult decision, by one not yet legally an adult, but physically an adult, who will do as she pleases. As I did. As we all did, at some point, unless we were exceptionally-obedient teenagers, and I certainly was not.

In my child, I deliberately inculcated the desire to question, to think, to consider the deeper concepts and major ideas... and then I was furious when I was the first person she questioned, that she applied these values I taught her to ME, the one who taught them.

Of course, that is always how it is.

But my sense of failure as a mother, my feeling of abandonment, was overwhelming, all-encompassing, smothering and seriously disabling. I lost friends. I took anti-depressants for several weeks and then stopped. I starved myself intermittently. I also lost a job during this extended debacle. I lapsed into almost-delirious magical thinking. I began friendships with people who claimed to have seen the Blessed Mother in person; I venerated relics of saints, and had novenas going to virtually every saint in Butler's, even the obscure saints of the Middle Ages that nobody ever heard of. (The magical thinking wears ever on, as I remain extremely fond of the saints I believe listened and responded; I never lost this deep attachment to saints that I formed during this critical time. Without them, I believe I might have gone stark-raving insane.)

And I thought about those other parents. The parents of Eric and Dylan.

Why didn't they know?--the accusatory questions for the Harrises and the Klebolds came fast and furious, and have never really abated. The contempt for these "clueless" parents was legion.

And so: The two-year-anniversary of Columbine was under discussion and the yearly parental inquisition and finger-pointing was under way on Fox News, exactly when I got the phone call that would change my life, alter my thinking, forever making me unwillingly sympathetic with the bad parents of the world.

In a daze, I saw the TV, seeing but not really seeing. Eric and Dylan. Thus, their photos will always mean something very personal to me, but probably not what they mean to you.

They represent that which we have brought into this world, but can no longer control. "Your children are not your children, they are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself," wrote Kahlil Gibran. They will do what they think is necessary. Not what we think is necessary.

If we have taught them to think for themselves, they will come to different conclusions. It has been ever thus.

And they do. They will. They may decided to run away from home, or they may decide to shoot up a school. But that is nothing we wanted for them.

That is not our fault.

I crossed a line, that day. I was one of the parents who cried, who shakes their head, who doesn't understand what has happened. I was the woman in the Beatles song "She's leaving home"--I just plain didn't get it. Because it was another person's decision, what she should do with her life. It was not mine.

It was not the decision of the Harrises and the Klebolds, either. They did not make the decision that day. Eric and Dylan did. And that day, eight years ago, while the anniversaries played out on TV, my heart inexplicably pounded, as I knew I could never, ever judge their parents. Not now. Not ever again.

On the two-year anniversary of the Columbine massacre, I wept for the dead and injured of Columbine... and even more, even though I did not want to, I wept for the parents of the boys who went their own way. Who decided on their own, what they would do. The boys who did not stop to ask what mom and dad would think; and would not have cared anyway. The parents left holding the bag, shaking their heads, not understanding.


My family situation, over eight years, has worked itself out. There were several years that it looked dicey, but maturity and intelligence eventually manifested in my daughter's life, as she began to make the right decisions. Unfortunately, this cannot happen in Eric and Dylan's lives, which they decided to cut short. Their parents' suffering is ongoing, it will not pass, as mine has.

And on the ten-year anniversary, a few days ago, I wept again.

I pray always for those people forgotten in the carnage, the people who are hated and reviled for bringing these two lost souls into the world. I will pray for you always, Wayne Harris, Katherine Ann Poole, Thomas Klebold, Susan Yassenoff and the unique and unending pain you have endured. That day, I felt the connection with you, and I felt your consciousness merge with my own, as clearly as if you were standing right in my own kitchen.

And I am so, so sorry.


She's Leaving Home - The Beatles


Gone, when you wake in the morning
Gone, when you find that there's no one sleeping
Gone, pretty Penny was her name
She was loved and we all will miss her

Pretty Penny - Stone Temple Pilots


JoJo said...

Wow, what a heartfelt story. I remember that day so clearly, as it was the day I gave my month's notice at my job, when we were getting ready to move to Washington.

I still wonder why their parents weren't more in touch w/ what was going on w/ their sons. Clearly they were very troubled boys.

sheila said...

Ah, I've often felt the same way about both sets of parents. You raise your kids the best that you know how, and then you just have to hope that they 'get it'. And sometimes they do get it, but still do something incredibly stupid. I feel bad that those parents have to suffer a loss not only of their own, but of many kids from that day. What a burden.

And as for being in touch with your kids...people DO need to be more in touch with their kids. But I'll tell ya, some people THINK they know their kids, and simply have no clue. It's astonishing. Kids have a wonderful way of masking a lot of things.

Renee said...

I am not often left speechless but that was a powerful and moving post. I should probably not comment because of the mix of emotions that it left me with, but I wanted you to know that it deeply touched me.

Meowser said...

Fantastic piece of writing.

I admit, when I first heard about this story, I was one of the pre-clue people who said, "What did their parents DO to them?"

But these were not children. They were 17 and 18 years old, and the young woman who secured their weapons was 18 also. They would have been tried as adults had they lived. You might as well ask what Charles Manson's parents did to him.

What Harris's and Klebold's parents didn't know pretty much equaled what everybody in their community didn't know, which is that ostracization can turn a person murderous, not just suicidal (as if suicidal wasn't bad enough). From what I gather, the killings were mostly Eric Harris's idea and plan, and Dylan Klebold just went along with it because Harris was his friend and nobody else would claim the title.

It takes more than clueless parents to get THAT alienated. Lots of clueless parents out there, not many kids who plan to blow up a school.

yellowdog granny said...

wonderful post...being a parent is the hardest job in the world..they come with no instuctions..

Sungold said...

Daisy, this post made *me* cry, too. If everyone could find such deep wells of compassion, we'd have a lot less pain and violence in the world. Probably not zero, but a lot less.

Kia said...

I'll join the chorus in saying this was a really thoughtful and interesting post.

As a mom to small children, it's always sobering to think of them out in the world, building a life separate from the one we've built together.

I have the book, "Live through this: a mother's memoir of runaway daughters and reclaimed love" by Debra Gwartney on my library reading list, this post is making me want to read it sooner than later...

Annie said...

they weren't 'more in touch' with their kids because of all the things daisy brought to light here.

thanks daisy. as the mom of a young woman (so weird to call her that) who is behaving similarly, i really appreciated the wisdom herein.

nobody can grasp the absolute pain of all this until they have to let go and let them grow. or not.

Kikipotamus said...

This was interesting and touching for me to read as someone who did that to my mother as well. Ran away...though I came back soon. The song is so wistful and haunting. I remember hearing it at that age and finding so much sweetness in feeling understood.

Uc1l3l3k said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Marion said...

This post touched me deeply, is heartrending when kids decide to go their own way, as they all do. Now I watch my granddaughter decide her way, and it is no different...always thus.

mikeb302000 said...

I was touched deeply by the post too. I often write about the extenuating circumstances that might have contributed to the decisions people make. Running away from home in a teenager, just like criminal behaviour in young people, like this KKK kid, is often the result of poor education or worse on the part of the parents. Please don't take offense at that, I'm not suggesting that you and your daughter were operating on that mechanism.

My oldest daughter is 12 now. I wonder what lessons I'm going to learn the hard way over the next few years.

Annie said...

it happens even under the most optimum of circumstances. that's the painful, inexplicable part. because they are not your children, they are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself... as gibran wrote.


John Powers said...

I read a review of Reza Aslan's book How to Win a Cosmic War. The short version is Aslan contends in this War on Terror we should address finite rather than cosmic issues. That's off topic, except Aslan was quoted in the review: "to address the earthly issues that always lie behind the cosmic impulse."

It's quite a trick to make the domains of the Earthly and the Cosmic neatly separate. We people seem to fall into traps by insisting we know too well how these realms ought to overlap. And to deny they overlap at all it seems to me leads to ugliness.

My brother was murdered, and I'm amazed I cannot think of the date. It happened around the years of Columbine. David was sharing his house with a young couple. The young woman was visibly pregnant and murdered too.

It took a while for the police to round up suspects, so there was a period of wondering what had happened. As it turned out I think the police did identify the culprits correctly--four young teenagers. But the prosecution really never presented an adequate story of what happened.

I attended only two court proceedings. It seemed to me that even the youths involved couldn't quite come up with a "why." It was a robbery gone bad, but it was also "playing gangsters."

I so much needed to know what happened and over and over in my mind played out the scene with the information I had. Playing out the scene wasn't objective, I was putting myself "in" the situation from various points of view. One thing was that I could get to the part where my brother was shot in the back in his doorway, but my reaction was always to run away fast. I couldn't bring my imagination to go back after that to kill the young woman.

Too much stuff comes up when I think of this. But relevant to your post, I did not feel hatred for the families of the boys. I didn't even feel hatred towards the boys--more astonishment. But I did feel an intense hunger to understand.

I read stuff. At the time "super predators" was a popular construct. I don't remember the exact title, but one book I read had "evil spawn" in the title. I have a little bit of experience with kids, and had exposure to a young child who had no remorse or empathy. I don't deny the notion of Sociopathy. But that construct didn't really seem to fit the facts as I knew them.

A construct that did seem to fit, even while I have reservations about it, was the notion of "A Culture of Honor" and it's relationship to violence.

Last night I was listening to Bruce Cockburn at YouTube. One of the songs was "If I Had a Rocket Launcher." I know a bit of the back story to the song, and that Cockburn is a devote Christian. I'm not so enlightened that I don't feel rage. Cockburn song so movingly speaks about righteous indignation. I think that Cockburn's faith serves as a sort of guiding light drawing him away from the abyss. Our passions are so vital but can lead to destruction. I don't have Cockburn's faith--well faith is so personal that observation is like: Dho!

It took a long time for me to come to grips with the reality that I would never know what really happened that day my brother was killed, at least not the clarity I so urgently needed then.

Aslan finds earthly issues always behind the cosmic impulse. People need a worldview and those in one way or another always bring us to cosmic pondering and commitments.

I think I've got a religious temperament even while not religious. Anyhow I was interested to read about how John Rawls' political philosophy was influenced by his religion. Something that stands out to me in Rawls' thinking is his view that "the moral community or community of faith is a relation among distinct individuals." People are separate and in relation to one another.

Some of our generals think that we will prevail in war because "our god is bigger than their god." In this view what is right is not relations between peoples but relations between people and their gods.

Of course there are various and sundry ways of understanding the mission and accomplishment of Jesus. My own views on the matter are that Jesus taught that our earthly relations are the way towards the cosmic. Lots of Christians think like that, but not so much the bigger god Christians.

What is the proper relation to those who are scorned? Surely the answer must be to some extent that it depends. But just as surely in my view such answers must be informed by faith that love is real.

Rosalind said...

It can't work as a matter of fact, that's exactly what I consider.