Sorrow That the Eye Can’t See
Last Tuesday morning, I heard the news of a shooting at Reynolds High School in nearby Troutdale, Oregon. I didn’t think much of it. People I knew were posting that everyone they knew got out and was safe. Because I was working, I didn’t watch the news much.
On Wednesday morning, I was with a client and happened to check Facebook to see if any other workers were doing something that might interest my client. When I opened the app on my phone, there was a picture of a young man I knew, Jared Michael Padgett, identified as the shooter. I knew from the news that the shooter was dead.
I didn’t know Jared well. He is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and attended the same ward (congregation) that I do. The Sunday before, I sat in a Sunday School class for youth and he was there. He was smiling, friendly, and communicative.
Everything I knew about him was from observation. He took his duties at church seriously. The reverent way he passed the sacrament was inspiring to me. It adds a certain boost to the Spirit in a sacrament meeting when the young men pass it to the congregation with reverence and dignity. He epitomized that kind of attitude towards it.
The morning I found out he was the shooter at the high school, my knees went weak. Whenever I would try to speak, my words were mixed up. I couldn’t say whole sentences. I was more distraught than I could understand, given that the young man and I were barely acquainted.
As I tried to explain it to others, I wasn’t really in touch with why it affected me so deeply. Certainly, part of it was just how close to home it was. When these events happen, I’m always affected. It makes me sad, but it always seems so far away until this time. Yet, even that wasn’t behind my deep feelings.
All that week, I searched my heart for the source of my turmoil and grief. The events as described in the news were not consistent with the young man I observed and admired. It wasn’t until the funeral that I started to sort it out.
The funeral was beautiful. For me, the highlight was the stirring violin solo by his sister, Maggie, who played, “God Be With You Till We Meet Again (LDS Hymnal, #152).” Several of Jared’s youth leaders and family members spoke about his outgoing and loving personality. I was not the only one that thought so highly of him.
Everyone is puzzled about how this kind, respectful, and fun-loving youth did such a terrible thing. I don’t claim to know the answers to that question, but I do know why I relate.
It has to do with dark thoughts and a reputation for good behavior. As a youth, I became to be thought of as a deeply spiritual young man. I was devoted to and knew the scriptures. People knew that about me. I related well to adults. I was liked and respected.
As much as I enjoyed the attention, another part of me was uncomfortable with it. I knew someone they didn’t. I knew the boy inside with dark thoughts and desires to do things that he knew to be wrong. I wrote some of them out in a journal and was glad later that no one ever had a reason to read them before I destroyed them.
One of the pitfalls of being around a lot of adults who think so highly of you is when you are having thoughts that don’t go with the things people say to and about you. It makes it pretty difficult to feel like you can process those dark thoughts with anyone without greatly disappointing them.
I was deeply ashamed of my thoughts and feelings. I couldn’t risk telling anyone for fear of rejection and abandonment, two things I knew all too well and did not want to experience again. So, I kept these things to myself.
Shame is dark, powerful, and compelling. It is so painful that when we experience it, we will do just about anything to take our minds off of it. When you’re young and when you’ve already known rejection and abandonment, the last thing you want to do is lay it out there for others to use as an excuse to separate from you.
With shame, there are two basic options: share it or bury it. It seems that in our Latter-day Saint culture, burying it makes for what feels like a safer option.That’s the route I took and the result was personally catastrophic. It kept me from serving a full-time mission. The me I thought I knew was probably not so bad he couldn’t have gone, but I never let anyone tell me that I was a better man than I believe myself to be.
Part of the internalization of shame and dealing with its pain is to embrace some of those feelings and try to tell ourselves that they aren’t so bad, that we have a deeper knowledge than other people. It feels better to tell ourselves that a thing isn’t wrong than to admit how wrong it is and how ashamed we are of desiring it.
It takes a lot of maturity to choose the “share it” option, yet it is a far better path to take. There is something special and wonderful about verbalizing dark thoughts to someone you trust. There is no more effective antidote to dark than light. Bringing even the darkest of feelings into the light by sharing them can alter what we think of ourselves.
I sometimes imagine how different my life would have been when I was a little boy if I had felt it was safe to talk about the dark things to the people that could have helped me. I had years of pain and separation from the Church because I preferred to hide my feelings and be away from the place that made me feel evil by contrast.
Have you ever tried to explain something you’ve been worried about to someone out loud only to find that it sounds a lot less convincing as you speak it than it was when you kept it quiet? I’ve experienced this over and over and I’m deeply grateful to the people who have been willing to hear me out even when I’m saying the most outrageous things.
We have a hymn that we sing called, “Lord, I Would Follow Thee (LDS Hymnal, #220).” One of its verses states, “In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.” I’ve had that quiet heart and hidden sorrow.
I wish I knew how to create an environment where young people with dark thoughts feel like they can talk them over with people who can help them. How much violence could we prevent if we were more open and young people felt they could trust us? How much pain could we soothe if young people who have experienced abuse felt they could tell us about it?
I know that one thing that helped with my own children was for me to be open about the struggles of my youth. I don’t know that it really serves the cause of parenting for parents to seem like they have never done anything wrong. We don’t need to dwell on our mistakes, but how can we credibly talk about the power of the atonement to cleanse sins and heal hearts if we give the impression that we’ve never sinned and never had a broken heart?
I believe that it would help for us to talk more kindly and generously about people around us who make mistakes. It is possible that the dark thoughts a young person is harboring are very much like something they’ve heard us loudly condemn with great conviction. It is fine to call sin sin, but if you listen, most people condemn sinners, not sins. How we speak of people who make mistakes has a great effect on how young people think of people who make mistakes.
I hope that when adults talk about right and wrong, they are clear about the difference, but always, always, always speak with compassion about people who do wrong things. The same hymn also says, “Who am I to judge another when I walk imperfectly?” I think that if we ask ourselves that question aloud with more conviction, we will set an example for young people that is more righteous, more Christlike than any sermon against sinners could ever be.