Thursday, April 18, 2019

Deadly Pain: A Modern American Story

Sol Pais was a student at Miami Beach Senior High School, with a pleasant facade that hid her inner turmoil:
I didn’t believe it — I didn’t understand it,” Brandon Bossard, a sophomore who had a second-period class with Ms. Pais, said after dismissal on Wednesday. “She’s so quiet. How could someone so quiet be like that?”

He said Ms. Pais would sit alone, in a chair against the classroom wall. Other students also described Ms. Pais as keeping mostly to herself, wearing baggy T-shirts, jeans and boots and, often, earphones as she listened to music.

“She was really smart,” said Jade Leeyee, a 17-year-old senior who sat in front of Ms. Pais in English class. “She was a genuine person, and she had such a pretty smile.”
She poured out her dark feelings in an online journal that she signed with her own name. The journal
read like a catalog of isolation, depression and anguish, illustrated with pictures of knives and guns. In a July 2018 entry, the journal writer described waking up every day feeling “lost, hopeless, angry, pissed off.” . . . She describes months of feeling lost, hopeless and misunderstood. “I wish I could get a gun by the end of the summer,” she apparently wrote in July. . . . The journal included drawings of firearms and a bloody knife, and a mention of dreaming about a shotgun.
She described herself as “infatuated” with Columbine and one of her entries included a drawing of Dylan Klebold.

Later entries vaguely describe some sort of plan, the “task at hand,” which involved flying to Colorado and buying a shotgun.

On Monday she disappeared from Miami Beach and took that Colorado flight, which one school official called a “pilgrimage.” Once there, she bought the shotgun as she had planned. This threw authorities into a panic and a massive search was launched for her.

Yesterday she killed herself with a gun in the snowy woods above Echo Lake.

I try not to pay too much attention to these events because I think the people who act them out are seeking attention as much as anything else. But this story struck me as perfectly expressing important truths about America.

Where does the real danger to us lie? Not in Moscow or Pyongyang, but in the back of the classroom, sitting quietly.

Whom do we fear? The loner, lost in fantasies of death and revenge, whose strongest connections to the world are through images of violence. He is out there, somewhere, buying guns, dreaming of armageddon.

We fear those whose strongest feeling for another human is an obsessive fascination with a famous killer. The scariest plots on cop shows involve serial killers who are in prison but can still inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

We can guard against those who hope to kill and get away with it, but we don't know how to defend ourselves from those for whom their own deaths are as much a part of their plans as those of their victims.

When Sol Pais embarked on her pilgrimage, thousands trembled. Tough Miami cops who thought they had seen it all leaped frantically to the phones to call the FBI, and the FBI mobilized as if against an invasion. Parents across Colorado kept their children home. She was, for a moment, powerful; for a moment, people paid attention to her inner pain, not just her grades and her smile.

We don't even know what she was really planning. Maybe it was just a suicide, preferably in front the the school that obsessed her, but if not then somewhere else. Maybe she planned to scare people in the school before she went. But the fear that she wanted to kill before she died terrorized us.

Our worst problems are problems of our minds. We suffer from anxiety, depression, loneliness, rage, despair. Someone like Sol Pais scares us so much because she is so familiar; she suffered from a more extreme version of what inflicts us all, and the path she seemed to be walking was one we have watched in horror too many times before.

We know what we need: connection. We need friendship, love, fellowship, a sense of belonging, a feeling that we are not alone, a belief that we are part of the world, not its hated outcasts. It is so hard for us to find those things ourselves that we have no idea how to give them to those who suffer cruelly without them. We are so frightened of what these demons might drive us to that the suicide of a lonely girl on a snowy mountainside feels like a blessed relief.


Shadow said...

I know nothing about this woman -- I mean the person. As part of analysis we try to generalize and categorize, attempt to fit some event or some person into an existing category, then let the conclusions follow from that. Part of that process is to eliminate the individual, the subjective, from the analysis. But this kind of thing (and particularly with her) strikes me as very personal and resistant to generalizing and categorizing. Does she really fit a category? But that's just a feeling I have, which isn't much. Still, I'm resistant to drawing conclusions about her and her intentions at this point. If I tried, wouldn't I be drawing conclusions about her from others who did similar but not the same kinds of things?

G. Verloren said...

I often feel that all the real problems of the world were very neatly summed up a long time ago by Charlie Chaplin - as was the only real solution to those problems.


I'm sorry, but I don't want to be an emperor.
That's not my business.
I don't want to rule or conquer anyone.
I should like to help everyone if possible.
Jew - Gentile - Black Man - White.
We all want to help one another, human beings are like that.
We want to live by each other's happiness.
Not by each other's misery.
We don't want to hate and despise one another.
And this world has room for everyone, and the good Earth is rich can provide for everyone.
The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.
Greed has posioned men's souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.
We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in.
Machinery that gives us abundance has left us in want.
Our knowledge has made us cynincal.
Our cleverness, hard and unkind.
We think too much, and feel too little.
More than machinery, we need humanity.
More that cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.
Without these qualities life will be violent, and all will be lost.
The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together.
The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men - cries out for universal brotherhood - for the unity of us all.
Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world - millions of despairing men, women, and little children - victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.
To those who can hear me, I say - do not despair.
The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed - the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress.
The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.
And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.
Don't give yourselves to brutes! Men who despise you - enslave you - who regiment your lives - tell you what to do - what to think and what to feel!
Who drill you - diet you - treat you like cattle - use you as cannon fodder!
Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men - machine men with machine minds and machine hearts!
You are not machines!
You are not cattle!
You are men!
You have the love of humanity in your hearts!
You don't hate!
Only the unloved hate - the unloved and the unnatural!
Don't fight for slavery!
Fight for liberty!
In the 17th Chapter of St Luke it is written: "the Kingdom of God is within man" - not one man nor a group of men, but in all men!
In you!
You, the people have the power - the power to create machines - the power to create happiness!
You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful - to make this life a wonderful adventure!
Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power! Let us all unite!
Let us fight for a new world!
A decent world that will give men a chance to work!
That will give youth a future and old age a security!
By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power.
But they lie!
They do not fulfil that promise.
They never will!
Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people!
Now let us fight to fulfil that promise!
Let us fight to free the world!
To do away with national barriers!
To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance!
Let us fight for a world of reason!
A world where science and progress will lead to all men's happiness!
In the name of democracy, let us all unite!

The Great Dictator, 1940