It’s Delicate

When my friend Joe worked at a state forensic psychiatric ward, one of his favorite patients was a man who never talked much except to remark, “It’s very tricky!” with a slightly conspiratorial air. Jerry would sit down in the art room and silently paint dreamy watercolor landscapes. For him it seemed life was a tricky series of negotiations between what some treatment professionals called reality and what he was actually experiencing. It was all tricky. One might also say, it’s all very delicate.

The borders between health and illness can be very delicately drawn when you’re trying to negotiate emotional ups and downs that seem to be conspiring to drive you over the edge.

But there’s nothing delicate about arming yourself with three guns and striding into an elementary school to find little kids to kill. There’s nothing delicate about shooting your mother in the face and killing her. There’s nothing delicate about the long nights and days the Newtown survivors now face without their children, their brothers and sisters, parents, friends, teachers.

As a mother of one child, a boy, I feel acutely the horror of the loss of a child when these violent acts happen, and I imagine the horror of grief and surprise that the parents of murderers must feel. Because this latest mass shooting took place not far from the house where we last lived together, I am compelled to look at pictures of my son taken long ago. An innocent infant – so inconceivably delicate:

How many nights did I stay up worrying that he wouldn’t come home? How many days did I spend agonizing over some trouble he was in and wondering if he would even make it to adulthood? It was often a very delicate balancing act, but yes, he is alive, and compared to many, he and I are lucky.

I don’t know what we can do to decrease the frequency of mass shootings – enact gun control legislation? Surely. Educate people towards a more enlightened approach to mental health? Certainly. Pay better attention to what’s going on in the delicate reaches of the minds of those around us? Yes. And perhaps try to embody light, in this dark season, a little more. It’s a delicate balance, isn’t it?


  1. That first photo is amazing. what is it? As for the CT shootings, it was so horrific, my head is still spinning… Life is delicate and the boundaries between sanity and madness is a delicate balance… however, violence is not delicate, I agree… My heart goes out to all the hurting families…


    • One can at least acknowledge the pain, and that’s important, right? The first picture is a seedhead from a fireweed plant – it’s a common wildflower here, and in many other places. When the long seed pods split they curl up in a wonderful way. The latin name is Epilobium augustifolium – the flower may be called something else where you live, if it grows there, but the latin is the same the world around. Thank you –


  2. Seperate thought:
    I’ve spent much more time than I should have “discussing” with friends and family, and mostly internet strangers, about the role guns played in the tragedy. It just is a terrible terrible loss and an even that will scar more lives than anyone can realize. One thing that upset me the most was the throngs of people who rushed to defend gun owners rights, decrying any who spoke ill of guns as “disrespectful” for not honoring some artifical period of mounrning.
    As an American and as a teacher I hope I am never at the center of what is stunningly a re-occuring problem in our country. I don’t want to step on anyone’s rights but I think we need to have a frank and open discussion about the gun culture in our country, and that just starts with the simple acknowledgement of the role guns played in this weekends tragedy. The NRA is a powerful lobby and a topic like these needs to be endlessly in the spotlight for real change to occur, because it is always relevant; not just after, but especially so, tragedies like this.


    • Agreed – I have recently moved to a state with very lax gun laws. The “Wild West” lives on – I have talked with people here who grew up with guns because they hunted. That’s one thing. But non hunting guns freely available to anyone – that’s another thing. People have pointed out that it’s harder to obtain a drivers license than a gun – there’s a place to start.


    • As a teacher you must be having to think even longer and harder than many of the rest of us about Newtown. Let’s hope the moment is not eclipsed and the energy is not lost to other things, and there is some progress made.


    • Thank you very much for your thoughts. As you know, sometimes the image just comes along with the words, and other times you have to work a little more. This time it came together naturally.


  3. Since others have commented here about guns and gun laws I would like to as well as I have been trying to get the pain of the shooting incident out of my head without success. It pops in and out all day long. My heart is broken for everyone involved. I think of the 24 year young man who lost his mother and brother and the pain he must feel for all of the victims. I wonder if he getting help …
    First though – I love the delicacy of your photo. Wonderful and fairy like. It is really appropriate to your text as the circles and swirls are representative of life.
    I was wondering why the whole damn town of Newtown has not voluntarily handed in their guns. What will it take to get one town at a time to make a vigil of that rather than let the NRA have the power. Everyone knows that power can be taken away and this is one of the ways to do it. While the constitution allows citizens to bear arms, it was written in a time way before semi-automatic weapons. Time for change.
    And yes it’s easier to get a gun than to get help needed for a family member battling a mental illness (or syndrome).
    Thanks for letting me say this. I needed to.
    I have more thoughts but will keep them to myself.


  4. This is beautiful. Incredibly moving. It’s so hard to put words to something so horrible. I think the problem goes much deeper than gun control, although that could be a start. I think so many things contribute. The media sensationalizes these crimes. The killer’s name and face are everywhere, but who remembers the victims? I, too, thought of my sons when I first heard of this.


    • I agree, many factors contribute, and maybe I’m being idealistic, but it seems to me that this time the “perp” is getting a bit less press and the victims more. I hope so. We are all connected though – we’re all in the gestalt, or Indra’s Net, whatever your term may be. We immediately think of our sons and then it fans out from there, and if we’re really honest, we know we’re not really separate from killers OR victims. I’m saying this from the point of view that thinking we are separate from anyone doesn’t really advance a cause or an idea. As you said, the problems are deep and everyone must be included.


  5. Poignant was the first word that came to my mind, as well…and a great complement of words with your images. Thank you for sharing your thoughts…your vulnerabilities as mother and educator…your heart….


  6. Thank you for reading back through posts – a very nice thing to know someone’s taking the time to do. I’m not one to bare my heart & soul too easily, but Newtown caught us all by surprise, and forced the issue a bit. I guess I’m happy with the idea of the delicate balance still, and the delicacy in the photos. Definitely happy with the fact that the post engendered some thinking & discussion.


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