Just a meanness in this world

April 22, 2007|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

You will find no wisdom here.

Granted, that's what we tend to seek in moments like these, moments scraped and raw and hell to live. We search for The Moral of the Story, The Lesson To Be Learned, The Thing So Clear In Hindsight that if we could only figure it out, only take it to heart and internalize it, we might ensure no more moments like this ever come again. It is a way of imposing order, asserting control. A way of coping and hoping. So it is not hard to understand the impulse to seek wisdom.

But you will find no wisdom here.

Let somebody else provide context and analysis, take Monday's deadly rampage on a college campus in Virginia and shove it through the prism of narrative. I don't have it in me.

It's not that there isn't plenty to work with: Cho Seung-Hui, 23, was able to easily and legally obtain the weapons he took to the campus of Virginia Tech; I'll leave it to other columnists to discuss what, if anything, that says about the nation's gun control laws.

Teachers, fellow students and a court of law had all found him a troubled young man in need of mental health care; maybe someone else will tell us whether intensive therapy might have headed off the bloodbath.

Mr. Cho shot two people to death, then waited two hours before beginning the rampage that took 30 more lives, yet during that lag, police failed to secure the campus; maybe someone else is ready to blast them for the competence or lack thereof of their tactical decisions.

You will find no such wisdom here because I don't have it to give. There are occasionally days when wisdom feels cheap, knee-jerk, inadequate. Any day that so closely follows the random murder of 32 people - the worst mass shooting in U.S. history - is by definition such a day.

CNN asked Nikki Giovanni, the celebrated poet and professor who taught Mr. Cho and at least one of his victims, about the shooter. She spoke of how he surreptitiously took pictures of classmates, how he turned in bizarre and threatening work, and how he ultimately so unnerved other students that they stopped coming to class and she, in turn, refused to teach him.

"I know we're talking about a troubled youngster ... but troubled youngsters get drunk and jump off buildings; troubled youngsters drink and drive," she said. "I've taught troubled youngsters. I've taught crazy people. It was the meanness that bothered me. It was a really mean streak."

Which echoes a lyric from "Nebraska," Bruce Springsteen's song about a 1950s killing spree. Mr. Springsteen, singing in the voice of murderer Charles Starkweather, says:

They wanted to know why I did what I did

Well, sir, I guess there's just a meanness in this world.

You hear few people putting it that way, which isn't surprising. After you've established that there is meanness in the world, where do you go from there? Blame the police or mental health care, and the implication is that here is something we can get our hands around, something we can fix. But how can you fix meanness? How can you fix a deadness of the soul?

I mean, am I wrong? I don't want to understand this pathetic boy. I don't want to endure the slow torture of second-guessing. I don't know what it changes.

Well-loved people are still dead. And no one can give a single, sensible reason why.

Some days, you look for answers. Some days, you seek things you can fix.

But some days, I think, you just have to swallow the bitter pill that there is a meanness in this world.

That will never pass for wisdom. But it feels an awful lot like truth.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun. His e-mail is lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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