Saturday, October 24, 2009

I Will Never Know Why

Today's must-read, bring your tissues is I Will Never Know Why by Susan Klebold, mother of Dylan Klebold; it's at O, The Oprah Magazine.

When something like Columbine happens -- when a child becomes a killer -- it is very easy to point at the people who raised him, or her, and pass judgment. Why? I think it's so we can tell ourselves that it will never happen to our child, our loved one, because we will do a better job. I also think our society, as a whole, as a huge belief in ourselves being able to control our own destiny and the destiny and others, whether it's "I'll eat healthy foods and never get cancer, those who get cancer are those who did something wrong with life/diet/exercise" or that a parent can raise a perfect child.

My heart breaks for Susan Klebold. She has exposed herself terribly in this article; I dread reading the comments there, or the commentary that will be elsewhere. When someone goes public with something personal, it's easy to judge them as a Gosselin, doing something only for fame. Because her son isn't here to be the target of hate, it's easy to turn that hate onto her.

Klebold's very personal, very revealing article is the opposite of someone seeking fame. It's words on paper, not a paid trip to a big city to sit before an audience. It's a parent's anguish over both the loss of a child and the damage that child has done. Her words about Dylan's actions are never excuses. And her description of a young Dylan, an elementary school Dylan, describes many children we know.

Klebold asks herself, how could I have not know this? Her answer, and the reason she writes this, is that she agrees with the diagnosis that Dylan was suicidal. She is now involved with educating people about suicide, so that people can recognize the signs in others and in themselves; and the link between suicidal behaviour and violent behaviour. Which is why she writes this; but even then she cautions against thinking that we will always be able to prevent such a tragedy.

Related books I've reviewed: Columbine by Dave Cullen, which explains in much more detail Dylan Klebold's suicidal thoughts; and Hate List by Jennifer Brown, a novel, which does a stunning job of looking at the post-attack lives of those who loved a high school shooter.

Dave Cullen writes about Susan Klebold's essay at his blog, Conclusive Evidence of My Existence.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Christine Borne said...

I had a friend who killed himself at age 22, several months after Columbine happened. Reading descriptions of Eric and Dylan reminded me a lot of him. Although my friend was a complicated person and his loved ones have puzzled over his death now for 10 years, I honestly believe he did it because he felt the world didn't deserve him. Killing himself was some kind of twisted revenge against the world for not recognizing his greatness.

The saddest part of this essay was when she described how a little boy who loved learning transformed into a surly adolescent who didn't like much of anything. It's a very common and unfortunate story, I think. Would he ever have regained that exuberant curiosity, if he were still alive today? He might not have. I think a lot of people don't, which is also tragic.

Carol H Rasco said...

Thank you, Liz, for a sensitive treatment of this essay. As a counselor for young children through middle school age as well as their families years ago, I have sat with parents and agonized with parents on various issues. Your sensitivity and clear headed thoughts are appreciated!

Paige Y. said...

Susan Klebold's article was truly heart-breaking. As a society we all like to jump to conclusions and condemn the parents when a child does something wrong, but the truth is rarely that simple.

Liz B said...

We are all a mixture of nature and nurture. In terms of what makes people who they are -- it's such a huge, tricky area. On the one hand, what we do is important; how we treat others; how we live our lives; our impact on others. But, people are so quick to blame and sometimes things are just beyond any individual's control.

Even here, in a way, Susan Klebold is asking people to know more, be more aware, so that another person may be helped. Again, our belief that if we do things just so, perfection is possible, anyone can be fixed. It's why I like that she does, at the end, also say -- no matter what you do, sometimes bad things happen.

I am sure that Klebold's parenting was identical to many, many parents whos child did not murder his classmates. It's not simple.

Today's local newspaper reported that a High School student was killed by a train; the 4th from that school to die in such a manner since 2008. 5 if you count a HS graduate (as opposed to student); and another recent graduate who hanged himself. All young men, ages 16 to 20.

pat said...

As an educator, it makes you think twice about all the "clues" our students give us day-to-day about what is going on with them and in their lives, as well as how we deal with individual students. There were many I am sure who touched these boys' lives every day, and perhaps someone could have changed the course of what happened that day. It was a great article, very well-written.

Marjorie said...

Susan Klebold is incredibly courageous to have written this article and I agree with your comments. The trauma and torment are hard to imagine and I was glad to read that she has met with some of the victims' parents, who have treated her with the compassion she deserves.

Reading through the sequence of events, as a parent, makes my blood run cold - and of course, we can't let our minds wander down that route...

Michelle said...

I feel for her, what a tragedy to live through day after day. It's quite impressive she has found the strength to not only go on herself but to do so in a way that makes the effort to help those around her. Not being a parent myself I couldn't possibly judge another for their inability to forsee such a thing as this in all honesty I don't know how anyone could parent or not.

What a powerful essay, thank you for pointing it out.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Absolutely crushing and stunning article that I wouldn't have found without this post.

One of the things I always talk about in my school visits is being different and quiet and bookish or creative and the pressure to conform, because I never toed the line -- ever -- and I managed to hold onto all my idealistic goals that I had as a teen. I don't kid myself that I get through to all of them, but if I get through to one kid in 500, heck, I'll take it . . .