Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Unprepared for the Unthinkable

My prayers go out to the students and staff of Virginia Tech, as well as the families of everyone affected by what will certainly be called the Virginia Tech Massacre.

Once again, I am disturbed and repulsed by the swiftness to which the news media is embracing rumors, innuendo, unconfirmed reports and assumptions. Perhaps worst of all has been the instantaneous blaming of Virginia Tech's president and police force for their perceived mistakes. Many are already laying the blame for these deaths at the school's feet.

Please, I beg you, I beg all of us, wait for the information to come out. Let's wait for the professional investigators to do their job and find out what happened here before we start handing out recriminations. But even if it turns out that the Virginia Tech administration made errors in judgment in not shutting down the entire school after the first shooting, I'm inclined to be forgiving (partly because I think killers are to blame for killing).

But this was an unthinkable act, and we should be taken unawares by the unthinkable. I understand that the university president's job is to keep the students safe. But when you're hiring a president for your university, you want to make sure he's going to oversee excellent academics, responsible administration and steady development. His ability to manage a mass-murder situation is just not a high priority for the search committe. And it shouldn't be. This was a completely unprecedented act, not just in the sheer number of victims but in the two-attack way it happened.

A rogue individual who's out to kill and determined to die is nearly unstoppable. Failing to stop him from doing so is eminently forgivable.

As a final note, can we at least wait a day or two before we use this tragedy to advance our firearms agendas? It's obscene to argue Second Amendment issues less than 12 hours after these people were shot.

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  • At 4/16/2007 11:29 PM , Blogger Scott Wichmann said...

    "can we at least wait a day or two before we use this tragedy to advance our firearms agendas? It's obscene to argue Second Amendment issues less than 12 hours after these people were shot."

    I agree that we should refrain from criticizing law enforcement until all the facts are known. But as to your above point, I take some serious exception. How many people have to die before we address the issue of automatic weapons in the free market?

    Is it really 'obscene' to talk about the factors which exacerbate crimes like these-- right now? OBSCENE?? Really? it's obscene to talk about the ease with which designed-only-to-kill-flesh-and-blood-human-beings automatic weapons get into the hands of anyone with a grudge??

    It's 'obscene' to talk about these things on the same day it happens? Really? When would you prefer we have the discussion? When is it not 'obscene' to do so?? Jenny and I were talking about this at 3pm this afternoon-- I guess we were guilty of 'obscenity' on a grand scale right in our own living room.

    This problem keeps surfacing, and in every instance, some crackpot(s) easily gets ahold of a couple of uzis or machine guns and efficiently kills scores of innocent people, yet we're supposed to hold our tongue for a few days??


    Is there seriously a protocol for this sort of thing? Have we endured so many of these random attacks that we know the rhythm and the post-attack discussion routine??

    That, in itself, is 'obscene.'

    I think the automatic weapons conversation is loooong overdue. Sportsmen don't need automatic weapons to hunt. we're talking about the same kinds of automatic weapons that enable crazed lunatics to easily kill 33 defensless students. They shouldn't be available on the open market, because they serve no purpose!!

    Yet, smoke some Marijuana (something with no recorded fatalities- ever)and it's five to ten years in the slammer. Yes, our priorities are definitely in order.

    Sadly, whether we talk about 2nd amendment issues twelve hours or twelve years later, the issue will never be adequately addressed, because of the good old NRA.

    Pointing out the horrible consequences of our national firearms policy as they happen in real time isn't 'Using' a tragedy to advance an agenda-- It is pointing out the obvious.

    Everyone continues to be 'shocked' and 'saddened', but they never address the ease with which anyone can posess horrible, horrible machinery. Well, be prepared to be 'shocked' and 'saddened' again and again, because nothing ever changes in this country.

    Furthermore, Please refrain from using words like 'obscene' to describe criticism of the ease with which people are enabled to commit mass murder simply because it doesn't happen in the ceremonial time window of media-driven pseudo-grieving.

    This issue should be brought up loudly and quickly, before another incident somewhere else in the country prompts another talking head to go on and on about how the United States "Didn't learn the lessons" of the VA Tech Massacre. Just like "we didn't learn the lessons of Columbine" or any other attack.

    I am so sorry for the families and friends of those killed and injured, and for the collective loss of safety and security at that school.

    This madness has got to stop.

  • At 4/17/2007 9:14 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Hold on there just a little bit, dear friend. You're accusing the wrong guy of bowing to media-induced pseudo-mourning. I'm just talking about focusing our energy on the Virginia Tech family for a news cycle or two. I'm not saying we shouldn't talk about this, I'm saying that a big push for legislation less than 24 hours after the gunshots will be justifiably criticized as uber-opportunism and doomed to fail.

    I completely agree with your above sentiments. There is absolutely no need for private citizens to own combat-style firearms, and our Founding Fathers would have written a very different Second Amendment if they had more advanced weaponry. Even the rifled musket of the 1860s would have necessitated a very different perspective, much less MAC-10s.

    I've also heard many people in the past day arguing that a couple people with concealed-carry permits might have been able to cut down the body count. It's a strong argunment. So people can use this situation to advance both sides of the issue.

    But I maintain that while they're still cleaning blood off the walls we should still be focused on the human cost. We also have no evidence whatsoever that the shooter was using legally-obtained firearms yet. I haven't heard any elected officials talking about gun issues yet, for which I applaud their restraint.

    As much as I loathe guns, I'm much more apt to point my finger at the culture of heroic violence our entertainment industry promotes and profits from.

  • At 4/17/2007 12:14 PM , Blogger Scott Wichmann said...

    Sorry for the brusque response; I spoke in a bit of frustration and upset. I just feel like we're not using common sense in this country with regard to guns. I don't want to take away anyone's sporting hobbies, I just want it to be a little more difficult for someone to purchase a gun than it is for me to get my driver's license renewed.

    I had no idea that the quick answer from some folks is "More Guns."

    I have given myself a 10-hour news cycle to calm down, but I'm still pissed off to no end, because I see in this mornings' AOL news that an anonymous source in law enforcement has said that they found a receipt for a semiautomatic in the shooter's backpack. I'm actually going to type AAAAARGGGHHH!!!

    We obviously can't take personal responsibility out of the situation. This guy, whoever he is, must have been going through some serious turmoil and made a personal choice to visit this kind of violence on the community.

    Yet I continue to be amazed at the way we focus only on things like Television violence or Music Lyrics
    in the aftermath of these killings (if we really focus on anything at all), while never getting down to the real issue of GUNS. "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" is the NRA rationale. I would amend it just a tad.

    "Guns don't kill people, PEOPLE WITH GUNS kill people."

    I'm also taken aback by the aparent disconnect from reality with regard to the sacredness of all human life. We habitually ignore a war where 90-plus Iraqis are killed per day, yet we act as if no one has ever experienced this particular kind of loss due to violence in the history of the world-- the media acts like american suffering alone is special and unique. They are more concerned with branding it 'the most deadly shooting in american History' (Uh, 'Wounded Knee', anyone?? Anyone??) Than reporting the facts of this case. That bothers me just a little, the lack of perspective involved.

    The perpetuation of violent culture doesn't stop at the level of TV and movie violence-- it is everywhere, part of our international policy, part of our syntax, language and culture. It is so deeply embedded in our history that we cannot see the root causes of our own inhumanity to one another, and we have become deeply de-sensitized to the suffering of others worldwide.

    Perhaps it's all just too much to take in. too much killing, too much bloodshed, too much pain. would that we could remove it from those who must endure it.

    To that end, I offer part of the Buddhist aspiration of suffusing the world with Metta, or lovingkindness...

    "May all beings be happy and free from suffering; May they live in safety and joy; may all beings, whether weak, strong, tall, stout, average or short, seen or unseen, near or far, born or to be born, in all directions without limit throughout all possible universes; May they all be happy and free from suffering.

    As a mother watches over her child, willing to give here life for her only child, so should I regard all living beings, endeavoring to suffuse the entire universe and beyond with pure, unobstructed lovingkindess and peace."

    That goes for you too, my friend. Have a good day.

  • At 4/17/2007 3:35 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    That's an incredibly beautiful prayer.

    Thank you.

  • At 4/17/2007 5:21 PM , Blogger Joey Fanelli said...

    Even as someone who wasn't directly effected by the event, it's made me unbelieveably depressed.

  • At 4/17/2007 9:47 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Well my friends, speaking as someone who was already on something of an emotional rollercoaster before this tragedy occurred, I think it's no coincidence that I recently began reading "Living Buddha, Living Christ" last week (highly recommended, even though I'm not even halfway through it). More on that book in a moment, and how I've decided to put this senselessness into a mindset that will allow me to sleep through the night - soon,I hope.

    I was going about my typical workday when Carol IM'd me about a gunmen on the Tech campus. Few details were known - one person dead, one injured, we heard. Shocking, to be sure, but in the grand scheme of all the shocking news drowning our sensibilities every day - nothing to disturb the mundane tasks of daily life.

    By midday, it looked like my schedule would permit me some time to hit the company gym. The day is going well. I'm hitting a circuit of cardio machines...then step into the empty aerobics room for ten minutes of jumping rope as part of the circuit, and I'm feeling good as I walk back into the main area where ceiling-mounted TV's carry live news coverage. I'd heard the last update...two dead. Sad, I thought, very sad. But now, it's TWENTY dead, I'm told! People are stopping their workouts now. No,'s twenty two. And the numbers go up and down, as we wait to hear if they've even CAUGHT the shooter (or is it shooterS?)

    Later in the day, as we watch the news deteriorate into the circus Andrew described, I'm haunted by biting irony of the Boomtown Rats' song "I Don't Like Mondays". I remember that incident well, though I was quite young at the time, because it was the first such school shooting incident I could recall...and what shocked my child mind back then was the innocent, bespectacled face of the young blonde girl who committed the atrocity of picking off elementary school children using her dad's rifle.

    So what bothers me most? That it didn't seem like such a tragedy to me until the body count grew exponentially? That the news reports of senseless killings are so routine that we can offer only a shrug and a glib "Gee, that sucks"? That it wasn't until Tuesday evening that this horror elicited a few tears from me, my human compassion having been reduced to rubble by constant blunt force trauma? Or that we live in an era when people feel so disconnected from other humans that they commit such atrocities with seeming regularity?

    I don't know which answer can offer any comfort. I do know that the issue of gun control won't be solved for certain in my lifetime (I hate to be cynical, but I think that's a sad reality). So now what? What do I do with the anger, the sorrow, the mind-less-ness?

    And now I seque back to what both Buddha and Christ have tried to teach us: About mind-FUL-ness. One of the greatest gifts we can give to one another - one of the most loving things we can do - is to offer our mindfulness to others. As men, we've had to learn to LISTEN, to give not just our ears but our open minds to others...especially the women in our lives. As foolish young boys, it didn't occur to us how such an action would be so very appealing to the opposite sex. We didn't know that in the wisdom of women, that mindfulness is the first reason for love to grow.

    So this is the promise I will take from this horror: That I will not forget the brutal actions of this shooter, and I will hope to learn more about what drives such a person to these unspeakable acts. But in case he - or any would-be copycats - believe such actions lead to immortality, I will deny them that. I have heard his name...and purposed not to retain it, so I can not recall it tomorrow or next month. But I WILL look over the names, the pictures, and the stories of the victims. Surely, they had flaws like anyone else. But they were also young, intelligent humans looking to build a life based on higher education. They had families, and friends, and skills and dreams. They were loved, and would have been loved more in the years to come.

    We've all known someone taken from us, sometimes too soon, sometimes when it was natural to pass on. We take from their legacies something good...qualities we loved and admired, qualities we choose to emulate, and in our own natural homage we sometimes even portray their traits onstage in our performances as actors. This, for me, is one reason my craft touches my soul so often - because I KNOW those legacies live on in my heart, my choices, and sometimes even in my performance. Certainly, the legacies of these beautiful young students of VA Tech will inspire similar legacies.

    Let's choose, among other things we take from this lunacy, the lesson of living a legacy of love from those who died, and others we know who've died. Let's put out of our minds the name and face of this disturbed, twisted young man with a pair of handguns. I don't know how we can better honor those young lives snuffed out all too quickly on a typical Monday.

    Wednesday is coming. Love one another through mindfulness, I say. It's the only sense I can make of this week's events.

  • At 4/18/2007 2:12 AM , Blogger Scott Wichmann said...


    Thank you, Frank, for those beautiful words.

    Just-- wow.

  • At 4/18/2007 7:44 AM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    You are most welcome Scott, and my love goes to you and Jen as you go through this week - and Andrew, I'm very much looking forward to a few days of reconnecting with you and our friends as we hit the road and try to bring some joy to others through our performances. I hope we will bring others some joy.

  • At 4/18/2007 12:01 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    CNN did a pretty interesting report yesterday. Adding to the topic of perspective, I was surprised to learn that they presented the following study:
    The acknowledged the fact that it's easy to blow stories such as this up and then segued into a study reporting that drug and alcohol related incidents kill about 2,500 university students nationally/year. Gun control is a pretty important issue, but then while we're on the topic of priorities, how about addressing an even bigger killer of this demographic? What is the bigger picture? Are Americans capable of approaching a problem without tackling it from a symptomatic approach?
    Just an interesting point I thought I'd share.

  • At 4/18/2007 3:36 PM , Anonymous Jacquie O. said...

    My dear friends,

    One year ago I walked into Gold's Gym 40 pounds over weight and at a loss on how to change my life around. I was greeted by this wonderful woman named Alicia who quickly became not only my mentor and personal trainer, but my friend. She and her family are very spiritual and Alicia and I not only talked about my physical well being but she also helped connect me back to my heart in ways that are hard to explain. Yesterday I learned that her brother was one of the 33 people killed at Virginia Tech. Please join me in sending Alicia and her family your prayers at this time of unspeakable loss. She gave me strength when I had little left…and I hope that our prayers send strength and love to her and her family.


  • At 4/18/2007 10:10 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    My God Jacquie - I will pray for your friend and her family. Your words paint a picture of someone whose love and compassion has profoundly influenced your life. No doubt she's done the same for others. God Bless her.

  • At 4/19/2007 6:03 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Thanks for sharing that, Jacquie. Of course she will be in my prayers.

    I just found out this morning that two of the victims were friends of my nephew Jake. They weren't very close, but Jake is understandably shaken up, and feels very far away in Rochester. Please think of him, his brother Joe, and his sister Rachel.

    I'm from NoVa, I have family in Centreville and Vienna, and I have no doubt I'll hear about more connections as time goes by.

  • At 4/20/2007 9:27 AM , Anonymous Jacquie O. said...

    Frank and Andrew,

    Thank you so much for adding your prayers to mine. And Andrew I will also be sending my prayers to your nephew Jake. Today is a day of mourning...tomorrow is for action and change.

  • At 4/20/2007 1:23 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    "Today is a day of mourning...tomorrow is for action and change."

    Eminently quotable.


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