Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Quest For Happiness

Last night a man shot three women and wounded several others at an LA Fitness center in a Pittsburgh suburb. These acts of desperate selfishness fascinate me. Well, I'm sure they fascinate the world, really. How does someone get so sad, so angry, so decidedly alien to the sanctity of human life that one is compelled not only to take one's own life, but to bring others down, as well. A reign of terror on innocents in order to appease one's own feelings of depression or abandonment. From the shootings at Columbine to Virginia Tech to any number of post offices and restaurants, it is clear beyond clear, that a ban on fire arms to all civilians would at the very least save a few lives. When a despondent, beyond reasoning, person has hold of a gun before there is any chance of second thoughts or remorse or fear or rationality-- they've potentially taken multiple lives with one flick of the automatic rifle. This is nothing to say what happens to soldiers who are are in possession not only of weapons such as these in even more intense emotional situations with only seconds to make a decision and supposed nations of support behind them. And the utter tragedy for soldiers, unlike the deranged psychopaths who plan out their public shootings-- most soldiers never wanted to kill anyone in the first place-- so the power of the weapon to wipe out enemy combatants along with children and women creates a psychological dissonance that for many, many a soldier becomes a forever festering hidden wound upon their return to our supposed "non-combatant" world-- where you can innocently be taking an aerobics class one evening and end up in a body bag. So there are several problems which concern me in all this. One is putting lethal weapons in the hands of unhappy people. Two is putting lethal weapons in the hands of once well-adjusted or at least non-murdering people, thereby turning them into unhappy people. Three, that while we can look at horror at the tribal violence we see in the Middle East or Africa, that ultimately our nation is not better off, is not more civilized, is not less tragic and horrid. In fact our glazed and misguided belief that we are a superior nation is more dispicable than if we at least recognized our faults as endemic rather than anomalous. Despite having great wealth, abundant resources, despite the standard of living such that some people will never know, we still crank out unhappy, desperate, maladjusted people who rather than cope with life, would rather end their miserable lives in a shower of bullets and no care as to whose life is snuffed with their own. Of course I do not blame Mr. Sodini's illness and deplorable actions solely on our nation-- life is always a lot more complicated than that-- clearly the one thing our nation has struggled to come to grips with since its inception is that life is paradoxical and full of shades of gray---but would this man, without a gun, without the media hype that being good looking means you get whatever you want, or the hype that life in intimate relationship is better than community and neighborly relationship, that eros trumps agape, and if you don't have it then life is not worth living, would he have ended his and all those innocent lives? I am quite extra intrigued by this story, I suppose, because I just recently read Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I know, I'm an English teacher, so why at the age of 43 am I just now reading that book? I don't know. Call it a deprived literary life. But--- I am now among the fold that is amazed at the prophetic nature of that book. Written in 1950-- how could Bradbury with only the most minor indications that Television and Film, Celebrity and Triviality was going to take over our nation so thoroughly, almost irrevocably? And then today I was reading about the 72 Year (and running) longitudinal study of 268 Harvard freshmen and how what seemingly "normal" lives-- can become so maladjusted as middle age and lack of adaptation and relationship and might I say, patience, can bring about. Being unhappy is a choice, no doubt, that is sometimes inextricably linked to chemical occurences in our bodies, but no less, it is a choice that can be altered and bandied and lost if we can not look at the manure filled stocking we're given and be sure beyond any shadow of doubt that there is a pony somewhere just waiting for us.