I wrote this long, grim post several days ago, but as often happens, had to leave the computer before doing a final proofread and hitting “publish” and then was too busy to get back to it. The news stories discussed are a few days old, but the sentiments are timeless.
It’s hard not to be a misanthrope when you read as many ghastly stories in the newspaper as I did this Thursday morning. After dropping off the kids at the sitter’s house, I went to get a pedicure, and started reading the paper as the pedicurist got to work. New Mexico’s appalling drop-out rate on the front page, but I already knew about that sad story. China executes two men for defrauding investors on page 2. Heh, maybe we should try that here. Euna Lee and Laura Ling home, Ahmadinejad sworn in amid protests, and Sotomayor gets more GOP support on page 3 — I’m happy for Lee and Ling, expected as much for Uncle Mahmoud, and am not getting particularly worked up about Sotomayor, since I believe “pick your battles” is as good advice in politics as it is in parenting.
I won’t bore you with the entire contents of today’s New Mexican, so fast-forward to page A-8, where the real ugliness starts: previously convicted sex offender Kenneth Leon Mills is sentenced to 133 years for kidnapping a 9-year-old girl from her bed and raping her in an alley. I’d link, but as usual, I cannot find a link at the New Mexican’s site. I know they’re going through hard times, but really, if they’re going to have an online version, they really ought to get their act together and do it right. Here’s a link instead to KOAT’s story about jury selection for the trial.
Across the page on A-9 was the story of George Sodini, who shot up an aerobics class at a health club, murdering three women and injuring nine more before turning the gun on himself. Can’t find the link for that one either, so here’s the story in a different paper. His online diary chronicled years of frustration and anger because women didn’t like him, so he decided to take it out on the ones at the gym who wouldn’t give him the time of day either.
On the same page as the health club massacre was the kind of story that makes any mother get a sick, hideous feeling in the pit of her stomach when she reads it. It is the horrific story of Diana Schuler who, while driving drunk, high and in the wrong direction, killed her 2-year-old daughter, her three nieces aged between 5 and 8, three adults and herself. This time, the New Mexican came through with a link.
My head started to spin as I finished reading the Schuler story. There I sat, getting my nails done of all things, while in terrible world in which I live, little girls were getting raped, women were getting murdered because they wanted flatter abs, and a couple had lost all three of their children and no doubt felt as though their entire world had just caved in around them. It was all just so soul-crushingly ugly. And here I was, getting my nails painted red. Like blood.
Sometimes the ugliness of the world overwhelms me. Man’s inhumanity to his fellow man reaches such depths of evil that my head begins to ache when I contemplate it.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
So sang a penitent King David in Psalm 51:5, after he had sent a man to be killed in battle so that he, David, might have the dead man’s wife. Murder, adultery and abuse of power, a story thousands of years old, merely one of thousands — millions — of stories of human cruelty.
their strong, walled cities I beseiged, I captured. People, horses, mules, asses, cattle, and sheep, I brought out from their midst and counted as booty. And their small cities, which were beyond numbering I destroyed, I devastated, and I turned into ruins.
Cities into ruins, populations massacred and enslaved — Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Huns, Mongols…on and on and on went the killings, the rapes, the mutilations. The massacres of Jews at Mainz and Worms during the First Crusade, and the massacres of Jews a thousand years later at Dachau and Auschwitz.
I don’t remember when I first became aware of the Holocaust, but it was probably when I read The Diary of Ann Frank. But I read and read and read about it as a teenager, the tears rolling down my cheeks, stunned at the capacity for cruelty in my fellow human beings. For decades afterward, I avoided books and movies about the Holocaust, because they left me too disturbed for too long. Now that I am a mother, the children of the Holocaust haunt me.
Diana Schuler killed her daughter and nieces through negligence — or whatever it was — rather than through the kind of sadism that made Kenneth Leon Mills rape that little girl, and whatever combination of sadism and self-deception that made Nazi camp guards herd little Jewish girls and boys into the gas chamber. The self-pitying narcissism that drove George Sodini to snuff out the lives of three innocent women on exercise mats is far removed from the lust for power that made Sennacherib order the butchery of women and children and men from one end of his far-flung empire to the other.
Or is it? What makes us sacrifice the lives of others on the altars of our own egos? Is it, as David wrote in his Psalm, because we are sinful from the time our mothers conceive us? David, who earned the hand of Saul’s daughter by presenting the foreskins of 200 Philistines. David, who prayed in the same Psalm,
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
If Kenneth Leon Mills had prayed for a pure heart, would that 9-year-old girl still have her innocence? If George Sodini had not felt cast from God’s presence, would those women still have their lives? If Diana Schuler had felt the joy of salvation, would it have been enough to save her daugher and the daughters of her brother?
I wonder. And I pray — for all of them.