I'm sure most of you have heard by now about the tragic shooting that took place on the campus of Seattle Pacific University (SPU) last Thursday. I heard the news when my younger sister, who lives about a block away from the school, called. We both immediately thought of our niece who attends school there, about to graduate. My sis promised to let me know if she heard anything else and soon we all got a text from my older sister, the mother of said niece, saying she was fine, but one student had been killed and three others were in the hospital, one critical.
My heart just grieved when I heard this report. SPU is a small private liberal arts university and our family has close ties there. My older brother and sister are both graduates, my former brother in law was on staff there for many years, and several cousins, nieces, and a nephew have attended SPU. I cannot imagine what it would be like to get a call from such a fine university saying your child or relative has been shot on campus. The shock, the grief.
The almost immediate question is, "Who would do such a thing...a disgruntled or angry student?" In this case, no. There appears to be no ties with the shooter and the school. All we hear is that he had been obsessed with the Columbine High School shooting years ago...and that he has had several mental health evaluations in the past few years. A friend of his said he had just gotten a job at a grocery store and had no clue that he could be violent. I'm sure we will hear more about his life in the days to come...just like we heard about the shooter(s) at Columbine, Sandy Hook, and other places.
The weather on Sunday afternoon was lovely...warm, sunshine, blue skies. I sat down on the deck and grabbed my copy of Reader's Digest which had come in the mail. Yes...I still love this little magazine! Riffling through it, an article caught my eye called "Looking Out for the Lonely" by Glennon Doyle Melton, who writes a blog called Momastery.com. I read her story about her son's 5th grade teacher, who makes it a point, using an almost mathematical formula, to discover the lonely kids in her classroom. And, my mother's heart was touched...not only by the story...but in remembering some of the painful experiences my older son has had.
You see, my older son has always "walked to the beat of his own drummer." He was a quirky, and often challenging child, who saw the world differently than most. He had aversions to the feel of certain types of clothing and fabrics...the taste and texture of certain foods, would get lost in books and video games for hours if unattended, had absolutely no interest in sports, and would often get overstimulated in groups of kids and act out. Yet, he was incredibly bright, loved any toy he could assemble and disassemble, had a memory for things that caught his interest that was unsurpassed, and would often say the funniest things. And...he got picked on...and ostracized... and sometimes, bullied. I wish I could say that this happened only at school, but that would not be true. Even at places like church or a family bible camp, my younger son would come to me and say, "Mom, you need to come. Kids are picking on him." You see, kids have this innate sense of the underdog....and sometimes they look out for them...but other times they turn on them. I know....they don't always mean to be mean....it's a pecking order of insecurity...I get that...I'm an old Psych major after all.
Looking back, I'm so thankful for the adults and teachers who went out of their way to be kind...to look for and praise the good. My son is now comfortable in his own skin and has learned to be amazingly perceptive about who his real friends are. He really didn't form any true friendships until he was a young adult. As a child, he was "friendly, but friendless", in spite of all my best efforts to set up play dates and find camps, like Science Camps and Computer Robotics Camp, that he would enjoy with like minded kids. I'm thankful for members of our extended family who accepted him for who he was and is....a safe place for him to be.
It's easy for me to get my dander up about kids who are left out, a little "different", lonely...like my son once was. Then, God gently brings scenarios to my mind....like the woman who came to the our women's bible study group a few weeks ago. This woman felt the need to give her input on every question, even though she had not done the lesson and was new to the group, and shared way too much personal information about herself and her family...in truth, she made me feel uncomfortable. I actually thought to myself, "If she keeps coming, I may drop out." Yep...that's the truth, painful as it is to admit it. Then, I thought of Jesus....who intentionally sought out the lonely, the vulnerable, the ostracized and disenfranchised...like the woman at the well, the blind, the lepers, the lame. Am I not to be an imitator of Him and walk in the way of love? (Ephesians 5:1)
So, I wonder about this young man who was the shooter....what is his story? Did he experience loneliness, being ostracized, bullied? Did he have a supportive, loving family? Did he have mental health issues that were not treated? Like I said earlier, I'm sure more details of his life will surface soon...but we will probably never know the whole story, unless he chooses to tell it. One of the gals I kayak with on a regular basis is a school counselor at an elementary school. Some of the stories she tells us about the home lives of certain kids is heart breaking...even students as young as kindergarten know when they are not wanted or cared for. (Don't worry...she is careful to maintain their privacy and anonymity.) I know having a loving family is no guarantee that someone will not act out violently...but it certainly doesn't hurt. I'm glad there are people like my friend, who goes above and beyond to affirm and care for these hurting kids she counsels.
Perhaps, in the days to come, we can all be more aware of those around us who might need a friend...an encouraging word...an act of kindness....a listening ear....whether they make us uncomfortable or not. And, we can pray...for the family and friends of the victim who passed away, for the other victims and their families, for the students and faculty of SPU, and yes...for the troubled young man who perpetrated this horrible act.
I wrote this blog post and let it sit until my son, mentioned above, came home from work. I asked him to read it and told him, "If there is anything that bothers you or you would like me to change, please let me know. Or, if you would prefer not to have any of your story in this post, I will just delete all that...or not post this at all. You are more important to me than any blog post...this is your story and I don't need to be the one to tell it." He read it and simply said, "I think you should post it. It's a good message, Mom."