A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy (2016) by Sue Klebold.
August 30, 2017
How do we respond to unimaginable events, disasters, horrors?
We watch Houston, much of Texas, and Louisiana as they emerge from trillions of gallons of water left in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, August 2017. (The very anniversary of the destruction of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina in 2005).
We are reeling from the brazen racist violence of the August 12th weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia and continued rallies and marches of white supremacists and counter protesters.
The list of astonishing events seems escalated since November 8, 2016 and the placement of the 45th President of the United States. We reel and reel some more.
We search for reasons. We want to assign blame. We want to know, “Why?” We ask, “How could this happen?”
I want to direct our over stimulated sense of awe and awfulness to a recently released memoir. This will take us back in time, to 1999, and events that shifted everything for our national cultural awareness. U.S. school shootings are recorded as far back as 1764, the deadliest was in Bath, Michigan in 1927 (about which I had no idea until I did an Internet search). But Columbine High School haunts our recent history. Eighteen year olds, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, designed and implemented a massacre.
Sue Klebold is Dylan’s mother. She describes the unfolding of events for her family, the relentless quest to understand her son and his suicide, and to describe the unfolding of discoveries afterward. A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy (2016) is a challenge to every parent. This is not a Mom’s cozy love story. It is not a story of cruel or psychotic parents abusing children. It is a story of a mother’s devoted love for a child that ended in a blaze of bullets that killed twelve students, one teacher, ended the lives of the two perpetrators, and injured twenty-four other students. Dylan did not become a killer due to bad parenting.
We come into parenthood intentionally or unintentionally through desire, marriage, mishap, adoption, or step-parenting. The early days of parenting are a blur of tending to minute details and the wonder of a tiny infant exhausting grown adults merely by sleeping, eating, and requiring diaper changes. Then come the hazards of kids learning to walk, ride a tricycle, cross the street, engage with friends, attend school. Those years of fundamental learning and care go swiftly. Memories are made (good and bad) that last a lifetime.
A child’s unique temperament meets the community. Idiosyncrasies abound. What is a quirk a child will grow out of, what is serious and a sign of distress? Klebold has spent the years since the massacre at Columbine High School dissecting every moment and every memory. She could not fathom or reconcile her child as a shooter. He had friends, held a job, participated in family movie nights and dinners, was a tech for the school theater. He had just been to the prom. Dylan had his streak of depression, but she never saw him as violent or mean.
That is, until she watched the Basement Tapes months after the deaths. The boys made these tapes as they planned their massacre. There Sue Klebold hears a young man she cannot deny is her son, but cannot align with the son she knew, utter hateful words and show off with guns she never could have imagined.
Reconciling suicide, murder, hate. This has been Klebold’s life-quest since April 20, 1999. She isn’t asking for forgiveness; she knows she can never make amends for her son’s actions. She does appeal to her readers to understand that her son was brought up in love, with high standards, moral teachings, and within the bosom of a stable and loving family.
Klebold is warning us all: parents, teachers, professionals who work with youth, to attend. Wake up. Kids are cool, kids are geniuses at disguise, full of deception. Depression vs. the petulance of adolescent behavior can be difficult to discern and Dylan used all his guile to hide his depression and anger.
She recognizes the bullying culture of the high school, missed opportunities for intervention in educational/professional/judicial settings, access to guns, and Dylan’s resistance to therapy. But even if we look in every corner of a kid’s room we may not find the gun, the pills, the alcohol, or catch the thrumming of suicidal thoughts, or glimpse the deepest suffering that is lurking behind the cheery face. This memoir will wrench all readers as Sue Klebold takes us through each stage of her grief, shame, shock, awareness, and the depth of her reckoning.
Blaming the parents, blaming the school, blaming guns, blaming, blaming, blaming will not bring any of the dead teachers, students, shooters of any of the mass shootings back or heal any of those caught in the crossfires. Learning about the signs, the signals of brain illness (Klebold’s term for mental illness), and taking every moment to work with an individual is our social and community opportunity to create the change and establish the hope that mass shootings will be events of history, not weekly or daily occurrences (http://www.shootingtracker.com/Main_Page).