Murder Is Not Unthinkable. ~ Jayleigh Lewis

Via elephant journal
on Dec 17, 2012
get elephant's newsletter
Photo: Kevin Jackson
Photo: Kevin Jackson

I hear people saying the shooting that occurred in Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday is unthinkable.

They say they can’t wrap their minds around it.

I say it is unthinkable only in the sense that the idea of the world ending is unthinkable, when you come right down to it. Before Friday’s shooting, the biggest thing on the horizon seemed to be December 21st, the apocalypse at the end of the Mayan calendar. We joked about it. We speculated. We reassured each other.

If an apocalypse that ushered in the end of the world (whatever that means) actually happened, right here and now, it would knock us so far out of comprehended reality that we wouldn’t be able to tell what had happened until weeks, if not months, later.

Post-traumatic shock. It’s what happens when the unthinkable happens, when you are raped, when your child is murdered, when you lose your home and can never, never go back. The event has occurred, and each time you remember your mind recoils afresh, not wanting to have to know the shape, the heft, the unforgiving contours of a world where it is true.

I hear people saying they cannot understand why anyone would kill innocent children.

I hear people saying they cannot even imagine what would lead someone to do such a thing.

I can. I can imagine it.

That part isn’t unthinkable to me. I will not speak of the shooter as though I were safely in one group of humanity and he were in another. As though only those who carry out a murder could possibly imagine one.

I rage. I am cruel. Sometimes very cruel. I feel a rush of power when I push and push at another person, trying to make him or her do something. I feel it even in seemingly unimportant situations, like when I deliberately slow to a crawl so the driver behind me will change lanes and stop tailgating me.

Once I found myself getting out of bed at three in the morning, taking a rock, and pounding it over and over on top of someone’s written name as I simultaneously screamed that I hated her. It did nothing to heal or change the relationship or me, and even though no one else was witness, I am sure that ripples of negativity were radiating out from my action just as surely as they would have if I had cast that rock into a lake and ripples were forming in the water.

I can imagine the rush of power Adam Lanza might have felt. I do not claim to know exactly what he was feeling and thinking, but I cannot say that what he did is outside the realm of my imagination.

I have often imagined alternate versions of myself, versions that live in parallel futures where the horrible things that didn’t happen actually did happen. The future where I didn’t stop and instead drove over the edge. The future where I lit the match that burned the house down. The future where I walked out into the water and drowned.

What is the difference between me and a murderer? The murderer chose death, and I choose life, again and again.

What separates me from the Adam Lanzas of this world is my continuing, active choice to turn again to community, to turn again to bright, warm home and relationships where there is no betrayal because I did not betray.

I could have. I know that I have it in me to betray everyone who has ever believed in me, to snuff out the candle of trust and optimism that has kindled and burned in my relationships with other humans.

I will not.

This is also my power: this act of will, this choice. Restraint is just as much a live thing as the unleashing of brutal energies. So, too, is the active turning the other way.

The converse of the horror we feel when we look at the unthinkable that has happened is the relief we might feel if we were to look at all the horror that might have happened but didn’t. Someone turned aside at the last minute. Someone, fist raised in the air, found an internal stopping point and didn’t hit the baby after all. Someone intervened at just the right moment.

I hear people asking how there can be hope for the future when children are murdered.

To me, hope is the tough fiber that holds humanity together.

It is not tough because our community is guaranteed. It is not tough because everything will turn out all right no matter what.

Hope is tough because it is woven strand by strand by those who each moment choose, and choose again, for life and connection rather than annihilation and separation. It is a live, active thing. It may seem thin and frail because of how bare the margin is between each choice and its opposite, but the truth is:

We always, always get to choose.

Each choice is a gift to all of us. Each choice builds a world where the horror could have happened but did not. What we have is all the more precious when we see how easily it could not have been.

Believing I am somehow inherently different from Adam Lanza, or any murderer, that what went on in his psyche is so qualitatively different from what goes on in mine that imagining myself in his place is unthinkable, actually keeps me from weaving hope. When I deny the darkness and the cruelty in me, I do not see the priceless nature of the choices I make to protect and preserve life.

There is a hair-thin space between the world of horror and the world of innocence. As long as I have breath and heart and brain, I will keep building that world where it is safe to be innocent, where it is safe to believe everything is going to be all right.


jayleighJayleigh Lewis is a writer who will one day write a book. She currently works as a spiritual advisor to college students as well as a freelance editor. She has a dream that one day humans will remember the integral role ceremony has in our lives and will learn to create sacred spaces within which intention may manifest. Learn more about her dream and read more of her words on her blog.



Ed: Kate B.

Like I’m not “Spiritual.” I just practice being a good person. on Facebook.


About elephant journal

elephant journal is dedicated to "bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society." We're about anything that helps us to live a good life that's also good for others, and our planet. >>> Founded as a print magazine in 2002, we went national in 2005 and then (because mainstream magazine distribution is wildly inefficient from an eco-responsible point of view) transitioned online in 2009. >>> elephant's been named to 30 top new media lists, and was voted #1 in the US on twitter's Shorty Awards for #green content...two years running. >>> Get involved: > Subscribe to our free Best of the Week e-newsletter. > Follow us on Twitter. Fan us on Facebook. > Write: send article or query. > Advertise. > Pay for what you read, help indie journalism survive and thrive—and get your name/business/fave non-profit on every page of Questions? Send to [email protected]


23 Responses to “Murder Is Not Unthinkable. ~ Jayleigh Lewis”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I am un-liking "I'm not spiritual, I just practice being a good person based on this.

  2. Thanks for writing this, Jayleigh. I think it's a difficult but important thing to remember in the face of all of this. We are all human, we are capable of both wonderful and terrible things. We have a choice.

  3. Jessica says:

    I will not recieve anymore articles from based on this.

  4. Ellen says:

    I agree. There is a counter of darkness to all the light in the world. Hope will always be countered by doubt. This is what makes up nondualistic reality. Acknowledging the dark within ourselves opens up the way of healing and wholeness. And honesty with one's self is a must for both healing and wholeness.

  5. Jessica, if we only read what we agree with, what doesn't challenge us, how do we grow? I live in Connecticut. I waited and paced and cried on Friday waiting to hear if people I knew were safe. If we don't look at mental illness as real people with serious problems, we can't help them. If we think of these issues as somewhere out there and different from us, we won't see the signs when someone is in trouble.

  6. Jewels says:

    the people un-liking elephant due to this article live in deep denial, methinks. we cannot close ourselves to the fact that, to some extent, we all have cruelty in us. all of us. period. how or why, and whom we are blaming for it, I don't think matters. what does matter, however, is recognizing what's inside, and that we have a choice to act it out or not. of course, when one has some serious mental issue, well, that's another thing.

  7. Wendy says:

    Thank you for writing this. I understand the urge to demonize those we fear, to cast them as "other" so we feel safe. Not me. Not us. Not mine. It saves us from facing the hard truth that we all dance on narrow margins–every one of us has the potential to do wrong, to make the bad choice, to slide into illness and not find our way back.

  8. Jonathan says:

    why?are you offended by what she wrote? if so at least voice your opinions why you disagree…

  9. Jonathan says:

    well said Kate, there are things I disagree with in this piece and others i read here. However I keep reading.

  10. Jonathan says:

    What I find confusing about the "unlikers" is that they feel the need to tell us they are leaving but don't offer up an defined reason why they didn't like the piece.

  11. Laura Foley says:

    Powerful and true, difficult, important and strong article. Thank you Jayleigh and Elephant Journal.

  12. korumaze says:

    Jayleigh – I love your article and I am glad that you were brave enough to write it. I acknowledge both the light and the dark in everyone and everything, and I include myself in that whole shamozle as well! The more I practise this recognition of both sides of me, the more my compassion for others deepens. I am saddened by people who spit out hatred at people who have committed acts of hatred – but I can also understand how those people do not see how they might be mirroring the person they are vilifying.
    Elephant Journal – I definitely will not be leaving elephant on the basis of your article – I am pleased to see a balance of light and dark in these pages, as this portrays truth to me.

  13. laydowninthetallgrass says:

    Powerful piece, Jayleigh…thank you. ~ Bryonie

  14. Eclipse Neilson says:

    I think this article reflects the deep and diverse prisms of life! I don't think you can be authentically open hearted unless you are willing to understand the "enemy" so to speak. Jayliegh brings up the unspoken- the serpent that eats the timid mouse – the storm that falls the tree – the people who turn away and believe they can only see purity while persecuting the innocent and different. What I hear that is so powerful is Jayiegh's ability to see choice as connected to hope! I love her words of power behind the hope. I do not share the same ability to relate to the killer as she does but I am willing to try to understand and respect her courage to try to share a different perspective. What I see Jayliegh doing is daring to look at the wound and say we are all wounded in some deep way and until we are able to accept that humanity is a complicated ball of knotted string we will not be able to untangle it. Walking away and saying" I quit " feels like adding to the wound of humanity. I believe we need to listen to each other whether we agree or not.

  15. Martha Molpus says:

    Jayleigh is speaking her truth, which I honor, that we are all capable of harm, She is shining the light on the dark so we can better see it, We are more alike than we are different and it is love that can heal and unite us.

  16. Margi says:

    Powerful. I think this deserves a second, and third, etc. reading. People that are leaving maybe have yet to face their shadow(s)… And not that many many of us can in any way relate to this level of violence to ourselves and others. I personally feel there's more hope for humanity when folks are brave enough to look inside at their uglies to whatever degree, and express sanely, thoughts or feeling you wanna push under so maybe you can continue to portray outwardly more of an acceptable appearance. Brave piece of writing, very powerful to me. I began to tear at "I did not betray." Yes that is the thing, for myself, and what gives me hope. That we choose again and again not to betray our good selves and continue to receive the goodness of others.

  17. edie says:

    Martha: thank you for what you wrote.

  18. vintagecashmere says:

    Most human beings do not have such a thin line between thinking and doing. Most do not feel power and enjoyment from violent behavior, some enjoy violent thoughts. Dark places are normal, delight in them is not. Dark action- psychopathic. The timing of this post is in poor taste.

  19. Robin Turner says:

    Beautifully put. Thank you for writing this.

  20. Kuru says:

    This is why we meditate, do mantra, eat clean foods, breathe, do yoga.

  21. Tanya Dawn says:

    Very powerful, Jayleigh! At first I was disturbed, and couldn't relate, and then by the finish I was smiling and thanking you for this!

  22. […] thing to do in circumstances like these is to understand the pain that such individuals as Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Jared Loughner, Eric Harris, and Dylan Klebold were feeling as they were drawn to […]