Waking up to hear the news of Ariel Castro's suicide in prison was the most unwelcome sucker punch. Especially jarring, as today was my son's first day at school. I started out the morning all optimistic and teary-eyed about my hopes for my son's future, my dream that he find his way in life with success and become a good man.
And then I hear about the death of a bad man, a man who is the opposite of everything mothers hope for their sons, that people wish for this earth, and he died by his own hand, instead of living out the eternal life sentence plus a thousand years he was due.
I am appalled by what I felt first. Nauseated, even.
Then I was humbled by what I felt.
(Credit Image: © Julio C©Sar Rivas/EFE/ZUMAPRESS.com)
And if I have learned one useful thing in my life, it is that when I feel a moment of true humility, I'd better get out my notepad and take a deep, long listen.
But let's start with the appalled part, the series of thoughts I had in succession, all of which frightened me:
Fury, that he had been able to write his exit.
Relief, that at last this terrifying nightmare of a human being did not exist anymore.
Grief, that the women whose lives he so hideously ruptured would have to see him in the headlines again. Goddammit, he was supposed to disappear! Supposed to cease to exist! Those women's lives were to begin again, and his would be in an eternal holding pattern; that is what felt right.
And then, again, rage that he had succeeded in taking his own life, in writing his exit, in flouting the rules and escaping the oversight of those who are here to protect us, AGAIN.
He did it again. I. Am. So. Angry.
These feelings are not comfortable. This is not who I think I am. I am not a person who believes in retribution. I am a person who believes in forgiveness. I am a person who believes that, as Michelle Knight read in her Victim's Statement in court when Castro was being sentenced, "There is more good than evil" in the world.
But that's exactly where the humble comes in. Those feelings, those instinctual and gut reactions, are the reminder that I am having a human moment, i.e. a moment in which I am staring directly into the face of the truth of being human, and the challenge of being human. The challenge being that just as human and normal as it is to have those feelings in response to the lurid and awful circumstances surrounding Ariel Castro and his crimes, and now his death, I must let those feelings go. Spitting on his grave rights no wrongs, does nothing to help those women's lives, does nothing to make our communities safer. I have to turn toward the good.
I can't call Ariel Castro an animal and then get to lay my head down on my pillow tonight and dream sweet dreams. I can call him an animal, acknowledge that that is an utterly human response -- and then I have to let it go, and accept that hating him and being angry that he ever even existed does not make the world a safer place, does not make criminals come out from the woodwork and raise their arms in surrender, does not keep neglected children from starving to death, does not keep babies from dying.
I return again to Michelle Knight and the truly... words fail me here, but let's say this: Michelle Knight and the truly majestic words she uttered, instead of hate, when she faced down all the wrong that she had to bear:
As you think about the eleven years and atrocities you inflicted on us -- what does God think of you hypocritically going to church every Sunday, coming home to torture us? The death penalty would be so much easier. You don't deserve that. You deserve to spend life in prison. I can forgive you, but I will never forget. With the guidance of God, I will prevail and help others that suffered at the hands of others.
This amazing resilience represents the best in the human condition -- the ability to look ahead, look up, and believe that the world is meant to be good. And the jokes about Castro and his eternal punishments we see flying around Twitter today? They are the exact opposite. They are callous, detached, smart-assed reactions, a shorthand response to chase away all those terrible feelings we all felt this morning. They feel bad, even if they make us laugh. The laughter is hollow, because the dread and anger that are left behind have not been dealt with.
A deep human moment of horror and rage upon hearing this morning's news contains more hope and humanity than offhand snark and a hashtag.
It is a terrible irony that a man we would call "inhuman" is reminding me, in a way that is almost poetic, that the gifts and burdens of our existence as human beings are forever entwined, and that the line between safe and unsafe is razor thin. We have to take it all -- the good and the bad -- and stare it plain in the face. It's called faith. And it makes me turn toward the good, even in the aftermath of the untimely death of a bad, bad man.
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