Manure happens, even in River Forest

                Something like what happened on July 12 isn’t supposed to happen in River Forest.  Matthew Watson goes on a shooting rampage and dies in a hail of gunfire from the police.

               We accept the fact that gun violence happens in North Lawndale all the time, but in River Forest?  You spend a lot of money to buy a home in River Forest to get away from that kind of thing.  The best of everything.  Good schools and churches.  Enlightened policing.  Educated parents.  It just doesn’t make sense.

               “Absurd” is a word we might use to describe the occurrence.  Like in the Franz Kafka short story, Metamorphosis in which Kafka wrote, “As Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from uneasy dreams,  he found himself transformed in his bed into a giant insect.”

               Life is like that, Kafka seems to be saying.  Sometimes life is more absurd than the nightmares we dream, which feel so real while we’re dreaming, but eventually we wake up and realize it only happened in our mind.  But when friends and family woke up on Monday morning and wiped the sleep from their eyes, they faced the reality that the nightmare really happened.

               But it’s scary to entertain the thought that life is absurd, so we try to make sense out of a tragedy by conjecturing that the young man must have been mentally ill.  That would make sense, we say.  For example, do you remember Adam Lanza, the young man who killed his mother and then went to the Sandy Hook School and killed 20 children and 6 adults before shooting himself in the head?  I went to Wickepedia and found all sorts of speculation as to what was going on in Lanza’s head.  Sensory Integration Disorder, said one.  Others hypothesized that it was due to Asberger’s Syndrome or OCD.  His father suggested that his problem might have been schizophrenia or psychopathy.

               If we can diagnose the perp, if we can find a cause for the effect, it seems to ease  the insecurity we feel when we think, “It could have been me.”  We have a hard time accepting the thought that reality is often random.  Good things happen to bad people.  Bad things happen to good people.  The rain falls and the sun shines on both those who deserve it and those who don’t. 

               What’s peculiarly upsetting about what happened in River Forest is that Matthew Watson doesn’t fit the profile of a young person who goes on a rampage.  “A really good kid,” said one person who knew him.  “A fun teenager,” said another.  The incident doesn’t even support the gun control agenda.  It was a shotgun, not a hand gun, that he used to shoot his mother in the chest and to shoot at the police officers who answered the alarm.

               Those who need reasons to make themselves feel secure in an insecure world will, I suspect, find some cause for the effect which they convince themselves makes sense.  But, to my observation, the reality is that manure happens.  A woman I know woke up one morning to hear her husband, the father of her two children, announce that he is gay and is leaving the family.  She didn’t see that one coming.  Another woman, a pastor in fact, was walking in the CROP Walk a few years ago and was hit by lightning.  Crazy.  Random.

               Farmers will tell you that manure happens.  They don’t waste time analyzing why it is so, why God didn’t create a world without excrement.  Farmers just accept the fact that it is so, and go about the business of doing something creative with it.  They used to load it on manure spreaders—these days it goes into a containment tank where it is liquefied—and they spread it on their fields to enrich the soil, feed their crops and thereby increase the amount of grain available to feed hungry people.

               Religious folk—the ones who are on task and focused–aren’t primarily concerned about figuring out why manure happens.  When they do, they get into fruitless debates about whether the blame should go to Adam and Eve or to the snake.  What they/we are more concerned about is acknowledging that manure exists in each of us as well as in “those other people,” and then looking for ways to spade the manure into our character gardens so that the fruit we produce will be both healthy and plentiful.

               The primary religious response to what happened on July 12, it seems to me, is not to spend hours trying to figure out why it happened or to give an extra donation to the Brady Campaign, but to face the fact, perhaps for umpteenth time, that manure is a reality in ourselves as well as society; realize that nothing we can do can protect us from getting soiled by it at times—not even moving to River Forest; and then ask what is basically a religious question, “How can I find the spiritual connections to live with courage and integrity in an often insecure world?”