In The Midst of It All: Remembering Jared Lee Loughner
“Deeply Disturbed Individual”
On the morning of January 11, 2011--- three days after the Tucson Arizona shootings--- I forced myself to write about what happened...forced myself to say the things that I don’t hear discussed…And yep…I’m forced to think about that Samaritan journey once again.
In the New Testament Gospel of Luke 10: 29-35, the writer reports on an exchange between Jesus and a certain lawyer questioning him about the path to eternal life. Among other reminders, Jesus urges the man to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The man asks further “And who is my neighbor?”
In the case of the Tuscon shooting, the heroism of the Congresswoman Gifford’s intern and other locals ---who were able to subdue the gunman, end the rampage and prevent further loss of life---make them model neighbors and worthy candidates for an exploration of modern day Good Samaritans.
And yet, I can’t help but turn my attention to the actions of the “the Priest” and “the Levite” in the wake of this tragedy.
On this morning’s newscast, one of the segments was devoted to Loughner’s defense team asking “how this attorney can possibly defend this man” and “what kind of possible defense can she mount with so much evidence against him?”
…But, I just wanted to cry out at the top of my lungs: BUT HE IS OURS. HE IS ONE OF US. Jared Loughner is OURS. He is one of OUR YOUTH…one of OUR SONS….ONE OF OUR CHILDREN….ONE OF OUR NEIGHBORS…ONE OF OUR STUDENTS.
The truth is that during my 15 years teaching at colleges and universities, I have taught “Jared Loughners” at EVERY institution where I’ve worked---they are young people (and not so young people) who are emotionally fragile, confused, frustrated, angry, and often in profound pain.
Furthermore, “Jareds” exist in urban areas, suburbs and small towns all over this country----young men who have been suckled in a culture fascinated with gun play, shooting and brandishing weapons. Too many young Americans have learned well that HERE IN AMERICA we resolve conflicts (be they interpersonal, domestic and international) with fighting, “beefs”, confrontation, demonization which---coupled with easy access to guns---result in tragic shootings far too often.
We HERE IN AMERICA live in a culture where gun possession makes one feel “powerful”, “strong”, “bold”, “tough”, “virile”, “truly American”, somehow. So, HERE IN AMERICA, with use guns "to communicate" in any number of scenarios: as a source of entertainment as we LOVE watching shootings, murders and shootouts as a way to wind down and take the edge off after a hard day...or to show our displeasure with a wayward spouse or lover or perhaps to resolve a drug deal gone bad...or to deter a rival gang member...and let's not forget our use of the threat of guns against a politician or a policy with whom we disagree...or as the final solution for snuffing out any militant extremist who comes our way...just to name a few.
So it only stands to reason that Jared followed all of the social cues we give our youth and decided to use a gun to resolve his internal conflict. While I am fairly clear about where he learned to take up arms, OTHER QUESTIONS LINGER ABOUT JARED:
WHO WAS KIND TO HIM?
WHO PULLED HIM ASIDE AND TALKED WITH HIM?
WHO REALLY HEARD HIM?
WHO PRAYED FOR HIM?
WHO PRAYED WITH HIM?
WHO LISTENED TO HIM IN ORDER TO DETECT THE KIND OF PAIN HE WAS REALLY IN?
We know that the institutions that provide status in the culture---colleges and the military---rejected him. But did anyone, hear him moan? Like the Samaritan who took pity on the man lying in the road, WHO tends “the Jareds” in our communities?….Like the Good Samaritan did for the man in the road, WHO bandages our Jareds’ wounds pouring on oil and wine?… WHO brought him to an inn and took care of him?
In the case of the “Jareds” in our communities---and I stand guilty myself---it seems that we too often take the posture of the Priest and the Levite… and pass by them on the other side of the road until they bring us---front and center---into their pain.
Furthermore, much has been made of the first image of him in custody: the shaved head, the bruised eye, the ominous sliver of smile. For me, what is revealing about the image is that in those eyes, I see perverse relief. In those eyes, I see an unfortunate sense of release with what he has done. Using bullets to speak for him, he has now been seen, he has now been heard by the nation.
The other challenge of our age is that we are a culture throbbing with “information”, “info-tainment”, portals by which to self-broadcast, 24 hour news cycles and new television networks forming all the time. Damn near everyone is tweeting, texting, posting, IM-ing, publishing photos of themselves, and making videos for existing and potential “friends”.
And yet, no one really saw Jared until it was too late for him… and the victims of his rampage.
It is clear to me that we are all TALKING, but I’m not certain we are really hearing each other. Despite the time we spend glued to screens belching endless streams of content, we have increasingly less time TO CARE ABOUT ONE ANOTHER IN REAL TIME, IN REAL WAYS, LIFE TO LIFE. We are so busy just trying to get on with it…just trying to get through the day so we can get home to zone out from all that the day served up.
Thus, we don’t have the energy to listen, to notice, to ask, to stop by, to take time with one another, to make time to reach out, to follow up on that odd comment by a family member, or that distant glance from a co-worker, or that erratic conversation of our club member… we just don’t have time or energy or desire to check on folks who drop out of sight in order to keep them connected. Ironically, Congresswoman Gifford was engaged IN THAT VERY ACT of checking in with her constituents….and was met with the rage of a young man who hadn’t been checked on enough.
Please here me clearly: I AM IN NO WAY DEFENDING THIS YOUNG MAN OR IGNORING THE DEVASTATION THAT HIS ACTIONS LEVELED ON HIS COMMUNITY OR OUR SYMPATHETIC NATION.
However, I recognize that a culture steeped in fake “friendships” masking isolation, the acquisition of “stuff” and the relentless pursuit of new technologies--- which include deadlier and deadlier guns---will not save us.
This week---for a few mere moments---America is grieving the loss of six citizens, many more injured, an aching Arizona community and a young politician on the rise cut down in the midst of serving her community. We as a nation are most concerned---understandably--with hearing from the heroes, keeping tabs on the Congresswoman’s progress (and we are indeed glad and praise God that there is indeed progress) while awaiting funeral arrangements for those murdered. In a bizarre paralell process, we are also focused on defending hate speech and protecting gun rights despite this tragedy.
However, I can’t help but grieve for the loss of another young American…I grieve too for Jared Lee Loughner as well---a young man left on the side of the road passed by far too many of us.
As long as we remain MORE focused on protecting the right to bear arms with little attention to figuring out ways to connect with our neighbors in meaningful ways---and especially our youth and young adults--- we do well to prepare for tragedy after tragedy to come, I fear.
The chapter of Luke ends with the following discussion between Jesus and the lawyer:
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
May the Lord be with all who suffer---both the victims and the perpetrator and their families in the Tucson community… And may we be an expression of the Lord’s mercy in the world in the days, months and years to come.
"In The Midst Of It All..." was written by Nicole Anderson-Cobb, PhD. Copyright @ January 11, 2011.
All Rights Reserved.
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Nicole Anderson-Cobb, PhD, Educator, Playwright & Founder of Samaritan Road Productions is the author of the SRP blog "Writing On The Go"