OUR VIOLENT INNER LANDSCAPE
Monday night I got home from a long business trip. I was going to watch
a video of the new British production of "Richard III" that someone had
left me, but as I was turning on the television, I caught a spectacular
explosion, some gunfire and a half-naked body darting across the
screen. It was Rambo. I slumped on the couch and my road-frazzled
nerves relaxed at last, adrift in a comforting sea of macho insanity.
So much for "Richard III".
What makes this a bit odd is that in 1992 my 18-year-old son,
Galen, was murdered at the door of his college library, the random
victim of a disturbed fellow student who had gone on what the
newspapers referred to as a "campus shooting spree." The weapon the
killer used, a cheap, imported semiautomatic rifle, was similar to the
weapons used at Columbine High School in at least this respect: It was
inexpensive and readily obtainable by teen-agers.
Since Tuesday's killings in Littleton, Colorado, much has
already been written about the shameful availability of such weapons,
about the horrific rise in the number of school shootings, about campus
safety, about how we should monitor students more carefully, and about
all the other steps we might take to avoid such incidents. We're
anguished, and we're asking ourselves "Why?" over and over.
But I've been asking a different question. I've been asking what that Rambo movie did for me on Monday night. I mean, I've been there.
I have intimate knowledge of that excruciating territory the parents of
those children in Colorado are traversing. Yet, I am still capable of
relaxing with an hour's worth of some overmuscled action hero shooting
up a town. It's easy to talk about the prevalence of violence in our
society, but it's shocking to realize that that same violence is in me,
Certainly, it's my problem, one of a resplendent array, but
I've got a feeling this problem is embedded in our culture, way beyond
bad movies and cheap guns. It is as transparent as the air we breathe.
It's in our history. It's in the myths we tell ourselves about
ourselves. If we see it at all, we celebrate it. We relax to it. We've
made industries of it.
As always, it is the kids who have that instinctive grasp of
what the grown-ups are really saying, what the words truly mean, where
the lies are. It might be the sickest kids, the neediest among them,
who have taken our biggest lies and thrust them back at us, bloody and
I don't know what to do about this problem. I'm not even sure
what it is. I just keep thinking, over and over, that if I could find
the answer to my Rambo question, I'd have a start on the bigger one.