Fear is always real when you are afraid.
That was the first thing that struck me when I read about Myron May, the man authorities say shot three students at Florida State University’s campus library before being killed himself.
Before I heard the name and read this story in the Miami Herald, I was like most people, I would imagine, who read about the shooting on campus.
Another gun. Another mass shooting. Another chance to avoid discussing gun control.
This post isn’t about gun control. It isn’t about mental illness, either, although it serves as a root cause of the shooting. This isn’t about violent video games or the NRA or what happens to the idyllic life of the victims when their “normal” is taken abruptly and horrifically.
It’s about fear. And what fear causes us to do.
The story on May is that he began to spiral downward from an incredible scholar, a role model and a man on the path to greatness down to a fearful, unemployed shell of himself. The mental illness had robbed him of his livelihood and his confidence, making him fear unknown attackers who he believed had targeted him.
I believe May had a mental illness and I believe it to be something horrible. I know what it is like to feel that something in my head isn’t right, but I can’t figure out what it is. I know what it is like to live in a society that doesn’t offer help without judgment to people like May, but quickly rushes to patch up the bloody wounds that happen once that mental distress manifests itself physically. I know that not every mental illness starts the way his did or ends the way his did.
I also know that although true mental illness and gun violence don’t always intersect, when they do, we all feel the impact.
It would be easy to dismiss this as one of those cases. The NRA will blame the illness, the health-care practitioners will blame the lack of support for the mentally ill and we will all go back to life the way it was before we read about Myron May from our safe perches elsewhere in the country.
However, the underlying problem still seeps into the cracks and crevices of our society, imbuing us with the riskiest of all sensations.
When the gun lobby pitches “the right to bear arms” to the general population, it proselytizes under the guise of individual freedom and the inalienable need to protect one’s self. Belying that argument is a fear that is just as real in each and every convert as it was for Myron May: Someone, somewhere is out to get you.
It might be the evildoer, bent on havoc and destruction.
It might be the criminal, seeking to take what you have earned.
It might be a “crazy,” packing his own gun and unable to tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys.”
And it’s not just about the guns.
This morning, as I rode to work, I picked up the end of the news report on Obama’s amnesty program for undocumented citizens. (or illegal aliens if you prefer)
The president outlined his logical, rational argument that these people are here, working and living. They don’t pay taxes, but they use the tax-based services. Why not make them “legit” and have them participate in both ends of the system?
The “counterpoint” was offered by some cheap Republican hack and it was simple, unvarnished fear. Allowing the immigrants to be part of this system will cost “real Americans” jobs. It will “drive down wages.” It will cut back on the “quality of American life.”
Some people, who probably speak with an accent, are out to get you.
They want YOUR jobs.
They want YOUR money.
They want what YOU EARNED.
Even the most well-intentioned ideas are rooted in fear.
Go to college, because you can’t get a job without a degree.
You better save your pennies for a rainy day.
Make sure you lock your doors.
It’s 3,000 miles. Have you changed your oil lately?
In their magnum opus on the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team, John Powers and Arthur Kaminsky examined the team’s mercurial architect, Herb Brooks. They explained that he grew up on the East Side of St. Paul, Minnesota, the son of an insurance underwriter and the only thing that ever frightened him was failure.
And yet that was all he saw, everywhere he looked.
When he finally won his national championship, a prize to be treasured, his team partied while he sat in a hallway, drained and exhausted.
“They had succeeded,” the men wrote. “He had avoided failure.”
As a fellow sinner in the fear movement, I don’t know how to avoid fear. It’s like avoiding dust: It’s always around us no matter how hard we try to scrub it away. When fear becomes too much to handle, it bursts forth like a raging river past a faltering dam.
In his final minutes, Myron May’s fear led him to the campus everyone said he loved so much. As it exploded into a violent finale, police came for him and they killed him.
In the end, his fear had become real. Then again, it always was for him.