Lone Wolf

So what makes them do it? What makes an ordinary, quiet, seemingly normal teenager fire an automatic at his school friends and teachers? What makes a man drive his car into innocent pedestrians on a sidewalk? What justification is there for these lone wolf attacks?

Wolves are pack animals, just as humans are by nature socialised beings. Lone wolves on the other hand, prefer their own company. They live and hunt on their own. They are outcasts by temperament, by circumstance and sometimes of their own volition.

Nearly always after another chilling attack, emerge the clues that led to it. A social misfit, a dysfunctional background, a lack of love, a propensity for violence, vulnerability to ideological brainwashing. Taken alone, each of these qualities may perhaps lead a person to a solitary existence, a criminal career or even a mental institution. Together, however, they become so much more dangerous.

Can we, as responsible citizens; parents, neighbours, co workers, pick up on any of these clues, and report them to the relevant authorities? Do we, as a society, have a duty towards these social outcasts? Is it possible in any way to intervene and diffuse a potentially fatal situation from developing?

These are amongst the many questions that lie at the heart of the modern dilemma of home grown attackers. Are killers born or made? Are terrorists just victims of circumstance and conditioning?

Reflection and responsibility. Two things that might lead us to answers. Uncomfortable truths of the part we play in marginalising these peripheral pariahs, whose only moments of recognition and glory lie in death, terror and destruction.

Then, and only then, will we vanquish this multi headed Hydra.

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The Great Leveller

Prince or Pauper. Young or Old. Death doesn’t distinguish.

Rarely do we acknowledge that with every moment and every breath, we are moving towards our own ends. If life is a miracle, then death is its unsung companion. It lurks at every bend and fold. It stalks us with every near miss and illness. It laughs grimly as we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and milestones. After all, we have to walk into its arms eventually, and feel its lips upon us.

Does that negate the meaning of all life? On the contrary, as anyone who has had a brush with death would attest, it reinvigorates you into living better, and puts into sharp focus that which is really important.

I lost a friend and colleague last week. As memories and tributes have poured in, one fact has stood out in glaring contrast to the others. People have spoken time and again about his kindness. His generosity of spirit was the trait that distinguished him from all others. Not to say that he didn’t have his share of faults and weaknesses, as we all do. However, the overriding narrative has been about his selflessness, his need and ability to help.

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones, said William Shakespeare. For once, I am in disagreement with the Bard. The good does live on. This is not canonising the dead. This is accepting that each of us has a choice in the legacy we leave behind. Our legacy could be little or large. It could affect multitudes, or only a handful of near and dear ones. Yet, it would be the one thing that we would be remembered by. Choose wisely.

Having seen how quickly life can end, it makes me examine my own self, and ponder whether disagreements and resentments, and standing on points of principle are really as important as I thought they were? I could never be a doormat, and let people wipe their feet all over me. Yet, I need to inculcate forgiveness and empathy, and an awareness that each of us views life and relationships differently. I need to be honest with myself about my own legacy. I don’t want it to be one of anger and hatred.

In his illness my friend reached out to those he had wronged, and those who had wronged him. He set the record straight, and if nothing else, he died with his conscience clear. Perhaps this is a life lesson for all of us.

We do not need to be looking at death in the face to realise the importance of telling our loved ones how much they mean to us, forgiving those we have perceived as our enemies, building bridges that we have allowed to fray, and choosing to live each moment to its fullest capacity.

Live well, Laugh often, Love much.

A trite phrase that contains a pertinent universal truth. Do not wake up to it when it’s too late.