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LIFE AT HALF MAST

 Columbine High, Class of '99

     The media exposure of Columbine High School supersaturated our senses via TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines. Everyone wondered why this tragedy happened. Everyone wondered
 why children could be so infatuated in not only killing others, but also in relishing in the verbal taunts before and the physical bodily damage after.

     Tunnel vision is a dangerous thing; living in a bubble is a dangerous thing.      The “trench coat mafia” experienced both as a way of life. But living in a bubble is not life as we know it, but life as those in the bubble interpret it. In “To Kill A Mockingbird,” when Scout called upon her neighbors in the lynch mob by name, she chipped away at mob thinking, an unwieldy monster of a vehicle that can so easily cross the median into oncoming traffic. She weakened the bubble that the mob lived in, whose filmy lens distorted their view of reality. She bestowed upon each of them the perspective of interrelating with the world as we’re supposed to know it, not as is bounced back and forth in the bubble. This bubble is just that fragile, not taking much to pop it and in so doing render a clear vision of the world around its occupants.

A laser works by bouncing light back and forth within a mirrored chamber with only a small hole to let the stimulated beam escape. Living in a bubble likewise takes human thought and feelings, bounces them around, distorts them, amplifies them, until what escapes is the narrowest point of view, usually amplified as powerful hate. This beam of maladjustment cuts through anything in it’s path, be it a Luby’s, a college campus, or even a high school library. With such a narrow beam of exposure to the world, the vision can’t help but be tunnel-vision.

     With so much force coming out through such a narrow opening, nothing like compassion or tolerance can really get in. If everyone wonders why, this is why.

     We all wonder how human beings can perpetrate such atrocities that have such horror when actually “in the flesh,” yet we still all tune in to the “special” Dateline, the “special” Today, and the special “60 Minutes” to hear for ourselves the details of how the bullets ripped through the bodies. There’s the connection! We seek the pathos of hearing how the gunman asked his victim if she believed in God. We’re inquiring minds and we want to know. Eventually the special made-for-TV movie will compete on one network with the special made-for-TV movie on the other network. If you think we couldn’t get any more arousal on what the gunmen said in their taunts, just wait until we actually see it for ourselves according to the screenwriters. And we can’t wait. Advertising time will be expensive for these “docudramas” that will sweeten the pie for the networks during Sweeps Week.

     Meanwhile, we keep handing out the twenties to send our under-17's off to the movies to see the R-rated and NC-17 films that use murder as purely entertainment. And meanwhile we scold our children that hitting each other is not the way to settle things while the WWF wrestler hits the other with a chair on the screen that is on in the very same room. Purely as entertainment. And meanwhile we find it so hard to make the kids turn off Doom and Duke Nukem, the video games that are stalking ambulations through–that’s right, tunnel-vision--labyrinths of victims blown to bits by the powerful weapon that is the only object in the foreground to represent the player on his rounds of elimination.

Purely for entertainment.
     Good children see R-rate movies. Good children get into the WWF’s circus of come-uppances, bravado, and revenge. And good children blast scores of human and inhuman targets on video games. The First Amendment means that these vehicles of amphibian thinking, thinking that we have spent millennia building brain convolutions around to suppress, will still be there for the bad children, too (bad parents?). What is the answer?

The right answer is that there is no answer.

     Looking at it from a purely statistical point of view, only two out of 300 million Americans went on a mass murder rampage that day. Looking at it from a geopolitical view, only 13 people were slaughtered, what would be a mere pre-breakfast exercise for the pre-NATO ethnic cleansing teams in Kosovo. But Columbine High School still hurts so, so bad. What is it about the Caucasian brain that lets the amphibian thinking out every now and then. Why is it that we don’t hear of African-Americans killing and eating a slew of people like Jeffrey Dahmler, or executing total strangers just for some strange catharsis like Charles Manson’s groupies did, or thinking that a mass-suicide is a legitimate option in the religions like that of Jim Jones, or rampaging through a high school randomly killing for fun as many people as they possibly can.

     (And now we hear there is evidence that Homo sapiens interbred with the Neanderthal.)

     I’m confused as to how I’m decimated by what happened in Littleton, but only consider the mass graves in Bosnia with a passing geopolitical interest. I’m confused at how there’s so much profit to be made in presenting murder purely as entertainment. I’m confused that so many children can be exposed to adult tragedies with all of the realism that multimedia has to offer, and only some of them hope to create their own stalking labyrinths of pointless violence. My point? None that isn’t intuitively obvious:

     Good and evil, and the difference between them, really should be intuitively obvious, even in children raised badly.

     Those policing convolutions in our brains--that we’ve worked so hard to develop and which enforce the concepts of civilization--suppress the cruelty of survival-at-anyone’s-expense and the senseless violence-of-anger-at-any-cost. Most of the time, anyway.

     What to do...what to do? It hurts so bad we can’t do anything. Grief is an unfair emotion, because there’s no payoff and no restitution. Even appropriate grieving leaves a scar that fails to seal over adequately that hole in the heart that’s left there. Does lashing out help? It helps the amphibian parts of our brain but does nothing to satisfy the reasoning convolutions that make us human.

     It may be a linguistic coincidence that there is only one letter’s difference between glory and gory. It may be that there are people with empty shells whose souls already suffer in Hell before their lives end here. It may be that the epic story of the good angels, led by Michael, and bad angels, led by Lucifer, is really the battle we fight here on Earth, in life as we know it, and that the mythical battle is a parable to advise us that the battleground for us here and the antediluvial one with the angels are one and the same. And it may be that at Columbine High School we lost 13 good angels and two bad ones on that day.

     It may be that all 15 are now where they would want to be.

Copyright 1999, Gerard M. DiLeo, M.D.

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