Senseless Violence, A Church Reopens & A Boy Named Kevin

We need to talk about Kevin. Let me explain.

This morning, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina opened its doors to worshippers once again after last Wednesday’s shooting in which nine people were murdered. From the frustration of President Obama…

“We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”

…to the sobering words of Jon Stewart…

“I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist.”

…many notable people have spoken out about the mass killing that has touched people around the world.

Who would do such a horrible thing? Apparently an ignorant, malevolent racist. What’s his name? I don’t care. What does he look like? Irrelevant. Why would this 21-year-old “kid” do such a thing? Now that’s a question I’m more curious about. And that’s where Kevin comes in.

As journalists, politicians and pundits struggle with questions about America’s racial divide and whether citizens should have the right to keep and bear arms, I turn to Lionel Shriver and her brilliant novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin. In the award-winning book, Shriver delves into one of the most fundamental questions of the human condition: nature vs. nurture. Was the character of 15-year-old Kevin Khatchadourian born a malicious, sadistic killer, or was it the fault of his mom, who “never really wanted to be a mother,” and his father, who mollycoddled and turned a blind eye to his son’s questionable behaviour?

In my humble opinion, Shriver does a masterful job of letting the reader decide the answer to this ambitious question. There are a number of famous novels that have also featured this theme (Lord of the Flies, A Clockwork Orange,  and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone are works often mentioned in this same vein),  but it was We Need to Talk About Kevin that inspired me to revisit this daunting question more than any other story in recent memory.

And now, as countless people come together to pray for and remember the victims in South Carolina today, let us also cling to the belief that we are – and will remain  – “unconquered” as we move forward, just like William Ernest Henley so eloquently wrote in this 1875 poem:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.




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