Long after the winter rains had disappeared and the ground had turned pale and dusty from baking in the desert sun, there was a spot not far from my house that remained dark and moist. Sinking the blade of my shovel into the earth, I discovered wet soil well below the surface. Not good news. I knew the water line to the house ran deep right along this very path, and I knew what I would find once I dug it up: a leak.
So I shut off the water and started excavating, not quite as carefully as an archaeologist unearthing ruins, but with all the same curiosity. It had been 33 years since I had laid this pipe in the ground, and I had only the vaguest of recollections about what I would find.
The problem was a stress crack along the inside of a 90 degree joint, a crack so small that it was hard to spot, but under 60 pounds of pressure sprayed like a geyser.
A stress crack mix time, pressure, slight movements of the earth, perhaps some manufacturing defects, and eventually the PVC becomes stressed beyond what it can withstand. Under the relentless pressure of the water within the pipe a crack forms, water escapes, and a trickle becomes an artesian well.
I think of Adam Lanza, the mentally disturbed young man who killed children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary school, as suffering from a stress crack. At one time, he was probably a sweet kid, though challenged in ways we can't imagine by his autism. Autism doesn't make you murderous. Some other pressures built up in Adam's life his parents' divorce, his mom's overprotectiveness, burying himself in the world of violent video games. The sum of these somehow shattered his human decency and pushed him into an inexplicable, callous rage towards innocent school children.
We would like to think that we can prevent such horrors by stricter gun laws or increased access to mental health services and yes, it's likely that these sorts of legal and medical interventions would reduce the number of blowouts.
But as quickly as we might stop people like Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Eric Harris, Dillon Klebold and Seung-Hui Cho, along come a couple of demented individuals ready to park pressure cookers filled with ball bearings and explosives in the middle of a crowd.
What moves people to such unthinkable disregard for life? What produces such blinding anger and rage that murdering strangers seems a reasonable solution to the fury building up within?
The fact that evil persists despite all our efforts to eradicate it tells me that better laws and more generous social services are only dealing with the surface issues, while missing the deep internal flaws that are at the heart of these murderous outbursts, not to mention all manner of lesser rages and daily insults that we shrug off. The problem is not inadequate laws, but a growing spiritual vacuum at the heart of our modern societies, a vacuum crying out for the God Who Loves Us, a vacuum that we fill instead with modern skepticism and childish platitudes.