For now we see in a mirror dimly,
but then we will see face to face [1Cor 13]
[Image credit: publicphoto.org]
It has been a little over nineteen years since two sweet innocents sank into the bottom of a man-made lake in South Carolina, sent there by the woman who carried them in her womb. Susan Smith's story changed us all, mothers and fathers and families alike. None of us were unaffected, and yet, looking back, it is perhaps time we saw the lake as a mirror, and recognize our own reflection within it.
As a society, although individually we may strive toward good, we are none of us innocents. We should acknowledge, as Beverly Russell did, that there is a seed of capability to do great evil within us all. We owe this woman forgiveness, and until we do this we can not move on toward reconciliation, and we will not be able to realize our great responsibility to our children to ensure they grow up in a safe, loving world, full of possibilities.
When the word first came out that this mother had done the unthinkable, I remember being in the grocery store with my then 7-year old daughter and my son who was about the age of the youngest Smith child. Strangers who passed by my shopping cart reached out toward him, fastened safely in his little seat, to touch his head and to grasp my hand, wrapped protectively around him. "Take care of that child," some would whisper. "I can tell you are a good mama," others would say. I saw friends of mine from church, also young mothers, and we reached instinctively toward one another, asking, "How are you? Do you need anything? Is everything all right? You know you can call me," our eyes searching deeply within each other's, trying desperately to re-validate the safety net of community that had been rended and torn by the news.
We all knew that sometimes we are only a breath of time away from losing it ourselves, and we needed to know that we could stop it from happening if we could only remember we are there for each other, to help shoulder the load.
Before Susan Smith's trial and the facts and analysis that would come out of it showing she was a desperate, troubled individual with a past that some of us could not fathom or relate to - we young mothers knew. Only the grace of something greater than ourselves up to that point had saved some of us from recklessly destroying our greatest and most precious gifts, that of our children and ourselves. For some horrible reason, that grace had failed a young mother, allowing her to send her children, her flesh, her blood, to a watery tomb. And I think that our shock and horror allowed us to separate ourselves after a time from this recognition, in order to move on and to be better parents.
This had to happen. But it is time now to take the next step, and forgive her for her actions. To recognize as a society that we had some hand in this undertaking, and to heal and to move forward toward ensuring that infanticide does not have to happen, that we recognize the warning signs and stop this evil, desperate act from taking place ever again.
We know better now, how ill and wretched this young woman was. We know, and we must recognize, that she was manifesting the symptoms of the classic murderer of her own children. At that time only trained specialists knew and were capable of seeing in; indeed it is what helped them to guide Susan Smith into confessing her great horrible deed.Driving alone at dusk [Image credit: publicphoto.org]
But we all should know now. It's been nearly twenty years. Surely we can recognize that she was at the apogee of human error and selfish grasping for attention, love, and acceptance for who she was and what she was at the time: a lonely, depressed woman whose inner child grieved for the father she had lost, and who could not, for whatever reason, accept that now she was a mother, with limited options.
It's sad, but true. As her life gained complexity, her future seemed to dim, and the possibilities voiced in the letter written by the lover who rejected her probably seemed like a carrot too far from reach. She lashed out, angrily, at what seemed to have slipped away while she was busy attending to her greatest accomplishment: motherhood. She was confused, and oh so empty, and her fear allowed her to believe that emptiness was permanent.
We have all felt like this, at some time or another. Fortunately, most of us have resources and loved ones who help us see the folly of that belief, and can show us the good and lovely opportunities and choices for good in our lives, so that the fear and loneliness and rejection do not last.
Susan Smith did not.
Why, when she looked around, did she only see a situation that further estranged her from her best self? Why did she want to end her life, and that of her children? And what, if anything, could have been done to stop it?
I will reflect further on this as time allows. For now, I want to just think about this rationally, given the facts as we know them. I'll write more as soon as I can.
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