Forgiveness and understanding
April 24th, 2007The massacre that took place this past Monday at Virginia Tech is horrific and tragic. My heart, prayers and sympathy all go out to the family and friends of the 32 people killed by a student who was on a rampage and exhibited such rage that it hurts just to think about it and imagine the terror felt by the professors and students who were targeted.
I could wax on about the media coverage or the many other facets of the tragedy like the outpouring of sympathy throughout the country and the emotions expressed by a shocked nation and global community.
There are two areas that haven't been touched on very much these past few days. One is the difficulty that people have with mental illness and the other is the rawness of feelings and disbelief that the murderer's family must feel. Reports have surfaced that the young man who murdered 32 people, injured many more and then killed himself, had been diagnosed with unidentified, at this point, mental illness. In the April 19th edition of The New York Times, an article written by Shaila Dewan and Marc Santora noted the history that Seung-Hui Cho had with the mental health system and the attempts made to help him.
Mental illness is grossly misunderstood and often ostracized in our society. If a child or adult has a physical ailment or diagnosed with cancer or other disease, it is accepted and support can be found more readily. However, mental illness in all its various forms still is misunderstood by some and feared by many. Our community's mental health authority, network 180, has been trying to change the perception for many years. There are many agencies that address mental illness and organizations that try to inform the public to take the "mystery" out of it and provide information on how this affects children, adults, families and the entire community.
Why do I write this? Many people know that I was attacked back in 1973 when I first moved to Grand Rapids from Detroit marrying a young man from this area. (I do not write this for sympathy but to help understand my personal framework for writing these comments.) Living in an apartment complex at the time, I was attacked by a man as I was climbing the stairs up to my apartment loaded down by bags of groceries. Without any warning, the man stabbed me in the back and we tumbled down a flight of concrete stairs landing on the next level where he stabbed me several more times. To say he was out of control would be an understatement. I heard later on that he was diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia. Back 34 years ago, treatment for mental illness was truly not as readily available as it is today. However, today the health insurance providers do have a long way to go regarding payment for treatment - woefully insufficient for many individuals and families.
I recovered and regained my strength and vigor for living. However, it has taken me years to recover emotionally yet I have greater optimism and love for life than many people I know. That is truly a gift out of an individual tragedy. My mom has told me countless times how horrible the journey was the night that she and my dad received the phone call at their home in the Detroit area. The feelings she had resurfaced as she watched the images this past week and her heart definitely goes out as does mine to the families who are now suffering from inexplicable loss and pain.
My one regret in my personal struggle was the fact that I never had the emotional capacity to reach out to the family of the young man who hurt me. I received a phone call many months later from the father who was begging us to please accept some kind of remuneration for our many medical expenses that were not covered by insurance. How I wish I could play back that life tape and have the family receive some relief from their suffering.
So as the next few weeks unfold with the blame game going full tilt, the tragic loss for all the friends and families of the victims, please remember that the family of Seung-Hui Cho needs support as well. The family did release a heartfelt apology and emotion filled statement as of this writing. Healing will take time - and frankly not all the emotional wounds will heal. My heart and soul goes out to everyone affected.