Bad things, Good people

A terrible mass shooting occurred yesterday at a mall in Kenya.  The news now states that 68 are dead. No numbers are given for the injured, or the number of hostages still being held.

My husband questioned why I found this event, half way around the world, so upsetting.

The first answer was that every mall is as much the same as it is different, and I could imagine myself in the photos of the setting and in the feelings of the people caught there.

The second answer was a question… who can make sense of this insanity, these unexpected attacks on random victims? Who can feel safe, anywhere? Civil authorities cannot protect the safety of the community… a mall, an office in a secure naval facility, an airport or a school. Last week an 18-year-old student died in a knife fight in the parking lot at a Tim Horton’s coffee shop on a main street in Hamilton, and last night a terrible accident took two lives because someone was driving the wrong way on Highway 401! Why?

Years ago the two-year old son of one of my cousins darted into traffic and was killed.  The funeral had an open casket… the toddler was buried in pale blue blanket sleepers, clutching a teddy bear, his face unmarked and appearing to be just asleep. There was much weeping; no one could stand such grief. The child’s mother would not allow them to close the casket, kept trying to pick the baby up, fighting off everyone who tried to restrain her. My great-aunt, senior matriarch of the family and a devout christian, was aghast… not at the depth of pain, but because the action suggested an impious defiance. Even something this horrific had to be accepted as part of god’s plan… to challenge his will was unforgivable.

I hated my aunt at that moment, her smug uncaring certainty, the rudeness of her reaction.  I suppose I should pity her cruel delusion… I did not take this as a testimonial to her faith, but as reminder of how stupid it was to tell a grieving mother that God needed her baby more than she did! How wrong, in every way!

The casket was finally closed, the ceremony concluded, the cortege to the cemetery, and then the formal reception. No one mentioned what had happened.  It was never discussed. I wonder whether any of the other observers was as affected as I was, whether anyone else felt a challenge to their faith in both god and human nature, whether anyone still remembers.

The most recent stories reminded me of the great Pulitzer Prize winning novelle by Thornton Wilder.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927) tells the story of several unrelated people who happen to be on a bridge in Peru when it collapses, killing them. Philosophically, the book explores the problem of evil, or the question of why unfortunate events occur to people who seem “innocent” or “undeserving”. It won the Pulitzer Prize  in 1928, and in 1998 it was selected by the editorial board of the American Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of the twentieth century. The book was quoted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair during the memorial service for victims of the September 11 attacks in 2001.  Since then its popularity has grown enormously. The book is the progenitor of the modern disaster epic in literature and film-making, where a single disaster intertwines the victims, whose lives are then explored by means of flashbacks to events before the disaster. Wikipedia

The story was filmed, for the third time, in 2005.  I would like to see it and the whole film is on YouTube… but not in English.  Here are the opening scene and the trailer.

 

Second Reading: Jonathan Yardley on Thornton Wilder’s ‘Bridge of San Luis Rey’   highlights several key ideas:

The opening sentence of “Bridge” is deservedly famous: “On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.” The incident is witnessed by Brother Juniper, a Franciscan from Italy who “happened to be in Peru converting the Indians” and asks himself: ” ‘Why did this happen to those five?’ If there were any plan in the universe at all, if there were any pattern in a human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those lives so suddenly cut off. Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan. And on that instant Brother Juniper made the resolve to inquire into the secret lives of those five persons, that moment falling through the air, and to [surmise] the reason of their taking off.”

…Brother Juniper’s six years of research are intended to prove that “each of the five lost lives was a perfect whole” and that each had been ended with “a sheer Act of God.”

It doesn’t quite turn out that way, and when Brother Juniper finally reveals his results he pays a heavy price. The Spanish Inquisition is still very much in operation. “The book being done fell under the eyes of some judges and was suddenly pronounced heretical. It was ordered to be burned in the Square with its author.” The last word belongs to Wilder, in four sentences that have been quoted over and over again: “But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

Here is the final scene from the 2005 film.

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One Response to Bad things, Good people

  1. Sufiya says:

    The fact is, we all die. And we can die any time after we take our first breath. It’s less to do with “God” than it is about one’s personal karma. Each of us are born at a moment in time, and that moment is depicted in one’s horoscope. If you were to look at that child’s horoscope I would wager the car accident was clearly designated by a particular planetary transit at a particular spot in that horoscope, showing “extreme danger to life”. Thus, there was no ‘accident” about that accident; we all have our own particular destiny and no amount of affection or attachment from others, nor tender years, or belief in God, is going to prevent the inevitable!

    A child’s death is sad and awful and terrible, but the fact is, the moment we accept life, we must also accept death as well, and that goes for children as well as adults, they are not exempt! Thus, in her way, your great-aunt had the right attitude: we have to ACCEPT the facts of life, and not to do so means ‘endless and futile grief’. Perhaps the mother was mad with grief because she felt she was ‘responsible’. That open coffin/ looked like he was sleeping was, unquestionably, a BAD IDEA, which, seeing that, was probably what “drove her around the bend”!

    Plus, it was not so much the ‘will of God” that brought the child’s life to an end, but the will of the child itself…because on a much subtler level, we ‘choose” the time of our birth, and thus, that of our death, as well!

    As a worker in palliative care, I am truly appalled at the number of people who seem to think they and everyone around them is ‘immortal”; they refuse to accept that life inevitably comes to an end, and so when the fatal moment comes, they are completely devastated, and remain so for years, causing ongoing misery and heartache to everyone around them, by their obstinate refusal to accept the facts of existence! Part of the spiritual evolution of humans is to come to terms with one’s death and that of others, and the failure to do so causes endless misery to all around them.

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