Monday, December 31, 2012

A Third Culture Kid Thinks About Guns

It’s happened again.  This time it was innocent little kids who were slaughtered, along with their teachers who were trying to protect their charges.  Who wasn’t horrified, disgusted, sickened?  They were little babies!  Senseless!  People are asking, “Where was God?”  Why do these things happen?  Why?  I have a dear friend from the adoption community whose daughter was a student at the Sandy Hook School.  This beautiful little girl, born in China, was in the fourth grade, and escaped, but her trauma is real, excruciating.

More recently it was a movie theater.  Before that a grocery store.  A college campus.  A shopping mall.  A military base.  A restaurant.  The absolute last places to which any of us think twice about going and fearing for our safety.  The knee-jerk reaction is that we should make guns illegal.  Sounds good on its face.  But doesn’t it then follow that only criminals will have the guns, and we law abiding citizens won’t?  As Susanna Hupp says in the video above, all of the incidents happened in “gun free” zones. 

The Philippines that I knew in the mid-1970’s was a country under martial law.  Martial Law is supposed to be a temporary fix for times of civil unrest or political turmoil; however, in Manila it lasted from 1972 until 1981.  Nine years.  Martial law means the suspension of most civil rights, and puts civilians under military courts of justice.  It suspends the rule of habeas corpus, which protects prisoners from unlawful imprisonment.  It’s a scary concept, which, in its most literal sense, puts all citizens at the arbitrary mercy of the government. 

Credit: Aaron J. Jackson Crabb
What it meant for us was curfew (1-4 a.m.) and lots and lots of armed military police everywhere.  Our school was surrounded by a very tall stone and iron fence, and there were security guards at every possible entrance.  (Somehow we kids knew how to break out, but I daresay we weren’t tempted to break in).  They checked and re-checked IDs before allowing anyone to pass.  They called ahead to the office to let them know who was coming.  Going to the bank, we had to pass a guard with a very large rifle (although I noticed once that the gun had no trigger).  There were signs at restaurants, stores and art galleries that read “Please deposit firearms here”.  I guess it should have been a scary place to live, but I was never afraid.  That may have been naïveté on my part, but I never saw fear in my parents either.  I pretty much had free rein to come and go as I wished (well, for the most part!)  I never gave it a thought, but I probably felt safe because there was no danger of being shot at in a public place.  If I had been a Filipino citizen, I would have had to ask myself if the tradeoff of losing my civil rights for being safe from being shot was worth it.  Gun control in Manila didn't help Imelda Marcos much when a deranged man attacked her with a bolo knife.  

I didn’t grow up in a “gun” family.  When I think back to my early childhood in Louisiana, I remember my dad used to go duck hunting.  I think it was a business thing, and he only did it because he had to schmooze with customers or higher-ups in the company.  He had an enormous pair of waders that I used to play in.  We did have a shotgun that made many moves with us, but for the most part it stayed wrapped in its leather case, hidden in a closet.  I’m pretty sure it was illegal for us to have it in the Philippines.  I don’t know the whole story but there was some clandestine transfer of the gun to someone who disposed of it. 

Fast forward to the present: My husband has taught me to shoot.  I’m pretty good at it, at the gun range, and I have a healthy respect for fear of The Gun, but I’m not comfortable with The Gun.  I don’t even know if I could shoot a 400 pound gorilla who might break into my house.  That said, if I was ever in a situation where a lunatic was on the loose, I would want to stand very close to my husband, who can shoot with deadly accuracy.

Which brings me to the point: who is doing these killings?  Mentally ill people.  By definition they must be mentally ill – who in their “right mind” would do such a thing?  Do we really want to disarm ourselves, leaving the deranged and the criminals with the guns?  Do we want to be at the mercy of the next psychotic break?  And if you extrapolate that idea to us, the people, being unarmed, and the government-slash-military being the ones who are armed, is that a viable option?  As Susanna Hupp says, the original intent of the Second Amendment was for us to be able to protect ourselves from THE GOVERNMENT. 

This isn’t a gun issue.  It is a mental health issue.  No matter how many people try to de-stigmatize mental disease, it remains an enormous stigma.  We recoil at the word “schizophrenia” and “bipolar” and “autism”.  Most of us turn away, thinking, “There but for the grace of God go I.”  For those who are in the thick of it, it is a living nightmare.  As the parent of a child with a form of autism, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I found myself at his school, asking, insisting, then begging to have him tested, begging for help, begging for accommodations, and was made to feel like I was a hysterical helicopter parent.  One school, a private parochial institution, asked us to leave, saying “We can’t do anything with him”.  The memory of that one still stings in a major way. 

At one parent meeting at the new public school, I sat in front of a semi-circle of stern-looking teachers who, one after the other, told me all of my son’s shortcomings, telling me “what he needs to do” and “if he would only” and “you need to”.  I could only get one word out before the tears started falling.  Not a single one of those ladies reached out to pat my arm, hand me a tissue, nothing.  They just sat and stared at me as I blubbered.  It was humiliating.  If it was humiliating for me, you can only imagine the humiliation my child suffered every day in his classes.  Not to say that all teachers are heartless, I know there are very good ones out there, but where were they for my child?  The other kids labeled him “odd.”  I cried inside as other kids asked his brother to play.  When I suggested that my other son might like to come too, the reply was, “Do I have to invite him too?” 

This son is now in his early 20’s.  He has a job, lives in an apartment with two roommates and is doing great.  I could not be prouder of him.  He is only mildly affected; many people are surprised to know that he has Asperger's.   An amazing therapist encouraged him to embrace his differences instead of fighting them.  She gave him valuable tools to begin his life as an adult.  I can’t imagine the pain of those whose kids have really big problems.

Mental illness is for the most part invisible.  We as a society make it invisible.  We brush these people under the radar, looking the other away so we don’t have to deal with them.  When one falls through the cracks, listens to voices in their head and starts shooting people, we don’t look at the mental illness, we look at the guns. 

I confess that I am a fan of the British Royal family.  (Make all the jokes you want).  Every day these people go around the country, making public appearances.  One day it could be a tire factory or a boat launching, but on another it is at hospitals and facilities for the elderly, the physically or mentally disabled or the terminally ill.  They are patrons of a multitude of charitable organizations who care for these folks.  Look at the long list of charities which Princess Alexandra, a cousin of the Queen, supports:  Alzheimer's Society, St. Christopher's Hospice, Royal Navy Nursing Service, Mental Health Foundation, Cystic Fibrosis Trust, and many others.  And she is just a “minor” royal!

Princess Alexandra opens Mental Health Foundation's New Office

Many dismiss the royals as archaic and medieval, time for them to move on.  But think about it: by publicly supporting these institutions, which take care of the most marginal members of their society, they are acknowledging these people’s existence, validating their illnesses and their very difficult lives.  We could all take away a lesson here.  Remember how Princess Diana hugged the child with AIDS?  Look  how far we’ve come from the days when AIDS patients were treated like lepers.  Google “mental health cuts in the US” and you will, as I was, be shocked at the number of articles, just in the last month.  Louisiana.  Texas.  Maine.  Ohio. 

There is a joke about a man standing under a street light, looking for something.  Another guy comes along and asks him what he’s doing.  The man replies, “I lost my wallet.” The other man asks, “Where did you last see it?”  “Down the block,” is the reply.  “Why are you looking here?” the guy asks, incredulous.  “Because there is more light here.”  Maybe we are all looking for solutions in the wrong place.  


Anonymous said...

Nice post, love the last paragraph. Nice to have found you!

Elizabeth Evans said...

Thank you so much! Tell your friends.

Dave D said...

Hey Liz,

You are a gifted writer. Great thoughts on this timely issue.
Loved the PI tie in... Brought back many memories.

dannie russell said...

still thinking about your post and about illness. so many brilliant and creative people have suffered. i think of our beloved van gogh, poe, judy garland, beethoven, and certainly edvard munch and his sister. such pain and suffering. and such brilliant creativity on the good days. there are lots of messages here and much to reflect on. thank you.

Liz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Liz said...

FYI, there is usually an ad at the bottom of my posts. It may be asking you to sign a petition against gun control, or promoting a rehab center. Apparently Blogger picks up words in my posts and sticks ads at the bottom of my entries relating to those words. I have no say in the matter.

Anonymous said...

xoxo read it ... brilliant D