a life. Lionel Shriver wrote a novel called ‘we need to talk about Kevin’. It takes the form of a series of one-sided correspondences from a woman to her estranged husband as she tries to process what has happened to their son, called Kevin, who is doing time in prison for a multiple murder in his school.
It is a distressingly intimate and honest examination of parenthood, and raises issues of love, relationships and child rearing for all of us. In the end there are no real answers, just the mystery that while very few parents raise a mass murderer, sometimes it happens.
The news from Virginia has been truly dreadful. To be honest I’ve tried to avoid reading or listening to too much of it but what I have gathered has been heavy. I remain unconvinced of the value of broadcasting Cho’s media package. And I’m troubled by the drive to decipher something from the fact that he was a loner. That in recent months he started to get out of bed up to an hour earlier than normal. That sometimes he wrote disturbingly. These things could be said of many of us.
The desire to profile this guy is, in part, our attempt to bracket him, to understand his motivation, to know that I would never do that. It allows me to put him in a box and mark it ‘monster’. And then permit the news cycle to move on.
I have found myself recalling something Jesus preached: ‘you have heard it said, do not commit murder, but I tell, anyone who is angry with his brother or sister is guilty of murder.’ In so far as I know myself today I will never take a gun and shoot anyone. But could I, by my words, my attitudes or the inclinations of my heart hate another person? Yessir! And by that measure I am as guilty.
Sufjan Stevens has a song called ‘John Wayne Gacy Jr’, about the serial killer from Chicago who buried his victims under the floorboards of his home. He sings
And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floorboards
For the secrets I have hid
Uncomfortable isn’t it. This morning can I urge you to hold families of the bereaved in your thoughts and prayers. And I include Cho’s family there, for they have lost too. And can I ask you to be extra sensitive to anyone around you who may be struggling to express their pain and alienation. Who knows but that a quiet word rather that a hurried nod may save a life.
[BBC Radio Ulster Thought for the Day, first broadcast Friday 20 April 2007]