A poem by Daniel Imburgia (dedicated to my new friend 94 year old Leo Wetmanski who once lived in the land of Prussians but now lies in a hospital bed next to me in this improbable city called Bellevue Washington. This really is not a place to die when Konigsburg is available. Isn’t it a pity though, what has happened to history).
How can I respect a priest
Who has never cried with Polish tears
Or the writer who hasn’t wept like
A pilgrim crossing the Russian steppe
Sedge and feathergrass extending farther
than a breaking heart can break for it
Teach me about your god when you have
Hacked at this frozen sod with a broken cross
To bury your children in
Rosebud or Kaliningrad
If beauty will not save this world
Then tell me, how do we save ourselves
After we have filled the crematoriums
Obedient to ideals of perfection
Do not offer me communion unless
You have eaten the shew bread of David
And I can feel the wounds in your palms
Better is the fear and silent loneliness than
Soft preachers hands
Shuffling the pages of his bible
Like a deck of cards
They say that the day before the explosion the bomber acted completely normal. He kept to all of his routines; gym, work, lunch with friends, drinks after work, TV with the wife in bed. No one noticed anything out of the ordinary. I think that it is this seeming normalcy that so often vexes us. We are more psychologically comfortable with deranged killers dressed all in black with dark skin and foreign accents. I have the same questions that so many others have: how could someone who appears so normal carry out such acts of brutal violence against so many innocent people? What could ever justify in one’s mind this kind of impersonal killing from a safe distance? What kind of religion could sanction or promote such a profound disregard for human life? Wouldn’t someone who could kill this indiscriminately have to be insane? But if we name this a pathology, a mental illness, aren’t we letting the individual off the hook, maybe even taking away some of his own humanity by treating his actions as symptoms of a disease over which he has no control? I think that to hold these killers guilty and accountable may in a sense restore to them some measure of humanity. This does not rule out forgiveness and grace, indeed it compels us to both for every act of killing defines what it means to be human, but so does every act of forgiveness.
Of course, in our search for answers maybe we will have to look farther and deeper than just the individual who presses a button. Mass killers are products of families, communities, countries, cultures. It is understandable that we want see where the killer lives, talk to family and friends, tour the neighborhood, read up on the history of his country, understand his religion. But, if we are honest with ourselves, part of what we are looking for is something that reassures us that the killer is different than we are. That even if we were raised in his family, in his neighborhood, in his country, in his religion, we would never have pushed a button that could kill innocent human beings. Otherwise how can we hold one person accountable for as act where responsibility and guilt seem so widespread? We are so desperate to believe that there is some intrinsic difference between us and the killers that I think it makes us vulnerable to our own mythologizing, about ourselves, and about the killers, and that makes confronting the truth all the more difficult.
I wonder if these kinds of killers can ever come to some sort of reckoning with the consequences of their actions. Will they ever be made to see the bloody bodies or expose themselves to the grief and suffering of survivors I want to believe that there is a indestructible part of them that knows that they have done evil and will evolve in time to confront their guilt. I want to believe that no matter how depravedly indifferent they appear, that there is nothing in this world that can totally obliterate a persons essential humanity. I want to believe that anyone can be redeemed. It terrifies me to think otherwise.