An ABC report describes Adam Lanza, the young man who killed 20 children, 6 staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and himself, as quiet, bright, and troubled. The article goes on to quote people who knew Lanza, saying that he was always a strange kid, always a loner, always socially awkward.
When I hear of such tragedies, I always, always wonder how it might have been different if someone – especially a gentle, caring, wise Christian someone – had reached out to Adam. While pundits examine every possible shred of explanatory evidence, we seem to miss the other side of the “loner narrative,” that even the “weirdest” among us, need community. We need friends, real friends who takes us seriously and pay attention to us. I wonder, did any church, any Christian community, any Christian anybody, (‘scuse my language) give a damn about Adam Lanza? If we did not, then we are partly responsible for what happened in Newtown. Not to blame, but partly responsible.
I was a lonely kid growing up. I was not as socially awkward, apparently, as Lanza, but still lonely. I had my own moments of real, serious, dislocation, in which I did not necessarily have a solid grasp on reality. I’m a preacher’s kid. We moved a lot. I was always “the new kid” in small towns and sometimes had trouble adjusting. I’m sure I was a little weird, at times.
Would I/could I have turned out like an Adam Lanza? Not likely, but who knows? But with every move, every new location, somebody noticed. Somebody reached out to me. There was always somebody who cared enough to make an effort to get to know me. Those somebody’s were not always the most popular themselves. They did not enjoy the best status in the pecking orders of elementary and high school scenes. But somebody reached out.
More importantly, when I was the loneliest, there were always caring Christian church people around to speak to me, to give me a job raking leaves or putting up hay or doing something. Always somebody just to notice…and to make an effort.
One story in particular always comes to mind. I went to a Boy Scout camp one summer when I was about 11 or 12. How I got into Scouting is one of those “somebody noticed stories” (thank you, Karl, and thank your Mom and Dad). For some reason, the camp doctor that week took notice of me. Not me only. He was a kid magnet, so lots of us hung around him during breaks and on trips to the canteen. We played this hand slapping game that called for a little courage (it hurt to get your hand slapped), quick reflexes, and the ability to anticipate. It was an absolute blast.
The camp doctor just seemed to love kids, but, for whatever reason, he seemed particularly aware that I felt a little out of place, a little awkward, a little more unsure than most of the other boys. This camp being my first big trip away from home, I had not prepared for incidental expenses that go with such an experience. While everyone else was going to the canteen for a popsicle or a candy bar, I stood around and watched, because I had nothing to spend. By the simple act of paying attention, the camp doctor noticed, slipped me a little money and made sure I did not feel totally left out. He even gave me a little cash for the long trip home.
Was there ever somebody like that for Adam Lanza? Did anybody ever reach out to him? Care enough about him to notice? Do more than just talk about how “different” and awkward he seemed?
Fellow Christians, we must risk noticing – and caring. We must risk getting involved with people, even the ones who potentially could turn out a little dangerous. Perhaps our noticing, our showing that we actually take a person seriously, might help to prevent such tragedies.
May we always notice.