Tragedy on many levels

In my homily yesterday I spoke a little bit about the tragedy in Colorado, mental health, gun control, individualism, community “soul” and corporate prayer. Some of my thoughts, although I didn’t say so then, were influenced by this article in the June 22, 2012 New York Times Magazine. Some of what I spoke about was influenced by my own life experience with mental illness in family members. And, some of what I spoke about is my ongoing reflection on the extreme individualism rampant in this country and our loss of civility.

When I preached the sermon I said more than what was posted on my blog. In particular I mentioned that traversing into the realm of mental illness must be done carefully. I don’t want to convey the idea that all mental illness will lead to violence to self or others. Nor do I want to convey the idea that all violence is the result of mental illness. I only wanted to suggest that people who commit heinous crimes of mass murder are living some kind of alternate reality. What I didn’t say is that schizophrenia can have an initial onset in young men during their late teens and early twenties. What I also didn’t say is that the ability for parents to intervene in the health care of their adult children has been eliminated with the HIPPA laws. Parents and family members are virtually helpless to do anything. The article in the NY Times magazine tells of this reality. It’s a sad, honest, tragic story. Not that the end of the NY Times story has the same outcome as the recent news. But I think it points to how complicated it is to intervene and get help. (read it, it’s worth it).

I’m thinking of the news report that said that the mother of the shooter in Colorado, when contacted on the phone, allegedly said, “Yes, you have the right person. I’m on my way there now.” How sad is that. Any family dealing with mental illness has three primary worries: their loved one will harm themselves or take their own life; their loved one will harm others; and something tragic will happen before any effect help can be found.

And so the real tragedy in this recent event is two fold: it might help if we had laws that made automatic rifles and guns illegal. But more importantly it would be really helpful if we had better laws and means for helping people with mental illness. We need compassion and love and the ability to intervene on behalf of another when they are unable to do so.

Protecting the rights of the individual above and beyond even their own well being is simply not working. Instead it has fueled a sense of entitlement and brought it to deadly proportions. Even when it is not deadly, it is still horrible – just listen to the rhetoric spewed in this country around politics and religion – it’s awful, all sense of civility is thrown out in favor of supporting individual rights to free speech and the right to bear arms. I am all for these rights, just not to the extreme we are living into them, one that pushes aside a greater good of the whole in favor of one.

I know…there are probably lots of holes in my thinking. I am not a lawyer nor am a theologian nor am I even a writer in the technical sense. I don’t have the gift to build those fabulous arguments I love to read. I am just an ordinary person trying to convey my thoughts on a systemic, pervasive problem in our world today. I wish that mental illness and the ways it can manifest in addiction was really understood as illness and not stigmatized. I’m sad that a news reporter called the shooter in Colorado – “Diabolic.” Really? Now he’s the devil? No doubt his actions are horrible. But he is wounded, somehow. And people who love him were unable to intervene, probably unable to even discern what was happening to him as he disintegrated.

This tragedy is tragic on many levels.


About Terri C Pilarski

I am an Episcopal priest serving a delightfully progressive, interesting, creative congregation. I have been married more than half my life to the same man. We have two grown children, plus two dogs and two cats, although the number of four legged household members changes from time to time. I love to garden, knit, read, and play on Facebook or with my blog. I have been a practitioner of daily meditation since I was nineteen. I practice yoga five days a week and walk every where I am able too.
This entry was posted in Aurora CO, mental illness, NY Times Magazine, tragedy. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Tragedy on many levels

  1. How useful it would be if we spent but a fraction of what we spend on defense and weapons and all this unnecessary crap on learning how brains get so messed up and how we can help people like this. What a tragic life ruined, and a family ruined by the ignominy of such an event. We have no clue how fragile our minds are and what can break them.

  2. your feelings are echoed by much of what i heard in the news today… i eventually had to turn it all off. can't absorb any more.

  3. Terri says:

    Hot Cup, I can hardly bear to watch the sensationalist style news coverage for this…it feels so, so, wrong. It feels like we should ask people to take a moment in silence to remember those suffering and to hope for comfort for them, too. Instead we add to the suffering by berating them with newscasters looking for a good story. sick.

  4. Terri says:

    bare? which form of bare/bear should I be using…and why am I suddenly confused by this? (old) (getting senile)???

  5. revkjarla says:

    bear. and I agree.

  6. Terri says:

    thanks Karla…I swear some days this ol brain of mine…

  7. Wendy says:

    A young friend of our family lived across the hall in the dorms from him in college. She and her friends are trying to fathom the difference between the young man they knew and the person who committed this act. When I heard and caught the age, my immediate thought was that's when schizophrenia shows up (I had an uncle…). She has been having to deal with news vans showing up at her house. Pretty awful stuff. Thanks for this post.

  8. Terri says:

    Oh Wendy, I'm sorry to hear about the family friend. Yes, her confusion exemplifies the challenges of this and how schizophrenia, if that is what triggered this, manifests and it's potential for harm. Of course our society feeds the symptoms of schizophrenia with violent movies and way to easy access to guns and ammunition, not to mention our poor response to medical and psychological health care that includes the ability for family members to intervene. One thing I am wondering about – with the tremendous shame family members must feel – it's no wonder no one has come forth with a "bill" to change HIPA laws to allow for family intervention – seriously most of our mental health care providers are qualified to hold with dignity the tension between what family reports and what they know in a patient. ANd, I suspect health care providers would love the opportunity to learn from family members with out these stiif laws.

  9. Lisa :-] says:

    This thing happened while I was out in the woods and mostly incommunicado. Better that way, for me at least. I did not have to be frustrated by the idiotic media coverage of the event. I echo your concerns about the difficulties of confronting mental illness in adult family members. But I am also a steadfast advocate of GUN CONTROL. NO ONE except the military and law enforcement should have legal access to automatic or semi-automatic weapons. NO ONE. How many people have to die before we tell the NRA to take a hike so we can come up with sane gun legislation?

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