Sometimes a title says it all. Remember Columbine? The precursor to names like Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook, Columbine still remains the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history. Although nearly 17 years have passed since that awful day when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into their school and killed 12 fellow students and one teacher, injuring 21 others along the way, April 20, 1999 is “a date which will live in infamy” (to quote FDR). For it was on that morning that far too many people had their lives irrevocably changed and the world watched in horror as the unthinkable happened: kids killing kids en masse.
Sue Klebold, the mother of 17-year-old Dylan Klebold, recently published a memoir called A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy. Its focus is not so much about the carnage itself, but about teenage angst, depression, and suicide. Carlos Lozada at The Washington Post summed up the book well when he wrote:
Reading this book as a critic is hard; reading it as a parent is devastating….I imagine snippets of my own young children in Dylan Klebold, shades of my parenting in Sue and Tom. I suspect that many families will find their own parallels….This book’s insights are painful and necessary and its contradictions inevitable.
While many, including Michael Moore through his documentary Bowling for Columbine, tend to focus on the gruesome nature of the attack itself, the proliferation of guns, and the high homicide rate in the U.S., Sue Klebold addresses what is arguably a more immediate question for societies everywhere: How do we deal with the psychological turmoil teens experience around the world and what can be done to address this vital social issue which touches us all, almost like cancer does, either directly or indirectly through family members and loved ones?
Unbeknownst to a lot of us, there are more than 38,000 suicides in America every year, making it the second leading cause of death for those 15-34 years of age. Compare that to the roughly 12,000 homicides that take place in the U.S. annually and you get an idea why someone like Sue Klebold, whose son killed himself at the end of the rampage, sees more than just gun control law problems when she looks back on Columbine.
While firearms account for the lion’s share of suicides in the United States, the fact that Korea has the highest suicide rate in the developed world (and No. 2 overall) and Japan has the third highest rate among OECD countries (and No. 17 overall) is further proof that guns are not the source of the problem when it comes to mental illness, by far and away the leading cause of suicides in the U.S.; they’re simply a quick means to an end.
Sadly – and I say this purely from an empathetic point of view because it’s abundantly clear that she is forever damaged emotionally and psychologically – there are still those who blame and hate the parents of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. However, Sue Klebold didn’t let that stop her from describing her own living hell and what she hopes to do about it in a positive, beneficial way. Rather than personally benefit financially from the sale of her story, she is donating all profits from the book to research and charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues.
Let’s all pray that initiatives such as this can in some small measure help us as one global society come face to face with something that has been stigmatized and brushed under the carpet for far too long. Mental illness, depression, and suicide are very real and will not get any better until we find a way to help those in need with a more caring and constructive approach.