That’s 1,140 seconds. Enough for me to commute to my office on a deserted I-275, which of course would only materialize if I were to drive to work at two in the morning. Otherwise, it usually marks the time for me since start to leave the highway at the Ashley Exit to join the much more manageable local traffic on the way to my office.
What else can be done in that 1,140,000 milliseconds? Oh yes, finishing up my lunch (home-prepared by my wife ranging from turkey sandwich to plain old butter and jam sandwich) while fixating on the day’s offerings on the monitor screen from RedOrbit, your universe, online, and Google News, my two favorite online news sources in the science arena, and the world stage, respectively.
But by Jodi Picoult’s account, a fictitious one at that, that’s the length of time for a young man in a dissociative state of mind to actualize his mental game of fighting back in apparent self defense, or threat elimination, or self preservation. And that account is narrated in captivating details, complete with well-crafted storey-telling in nuanced dialogs, via her latest literary offering, simply entitled Nineteen Minutes (Atria Books, 2007).
Using that hellish 19 minutes as the reference point in time, Jodi alternates between flashbacks and forward dials to lay the foundation for the defining characters, or the lack thereof, of the main cast and to weave a future for those left standing after the carnage, to pick up the pieces if you will.
There is despondency, there is fatalism, and then there is hope. There is death, either gunned down or self-inflicted. And then there is the impending arrival of a newborn, awaited with misgivings by the parents-to-be, no doubt shaped by the tragic events that unfolded in the pages.
The story seems to point an accusing figure at school bullying, and the psychological damage it can do to a tender mind. While most can outgrow the mental scars inflicted at a young age, not everyone humiliated under the same circumstances would recover before the tipping point is reached.
An oblique allusion to the culpability of the lax gun control of those entrusted in that role could only be inferred. So is the apparent disconnect between the teenagers of today and their parents, even elder siblings. In deference to respecting their privacy, parents often choose to look the other way, silently willing their charges to be able to exercise discretion and restraint in their course of growing up. It's not so much the dysfunctional family whence tell-tale signs are picked up, but rather the seemingly close-knit and well-keeled family that evinces no wayward signs until it's too late.
The story also brings home the message that there is no band-aid solution to young ones undergoing the throes of maturing. Each is unique, and deserves the differentiating scrutiny of parents that often highlights differences than commonalities.
That school/college student shootings occur far in between in real life can only mean that they may been averted by the keen eyes of those whose business is to notice such things, and also may be saved by a random act of kindness that touches a lonely heart.
But to stem such senseless killing sprees, we all need compassion, loving kindness, giving to and helping fellow human beings, not randomly, but as a concerted, conscious, and continuing effort.