In itself, by itself, that’s not so uncommon, or even statistically noteworthy; in itself, by itself, it is staggering and significant.
For me, Northeast Ohio is home. I grew up with photos of Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry being featured on the news constantly when they disappeared, and at least once a year as vigils were held, as hope endured even if it thinned, even if it frayed. When the women were found, when the story made national news and I heard it in Boston before I spoke to my family and they mentioned it—those girls, do you remember those girls?—it felt somehow more personal, for the proximity. It was close to home.
The news last week of Ariel Castro’s suicide in Orient has likewise commanded airtime, has taken over conversation. On the news, in the stores, conversations in passing with maintenance workers, cashiers: strangers, really—the sentiments, for the most part, are the same.
Justice wasn’t just blind, it was blindingly fast. What a coward, death is too easy for him! A man who does that sort of thing to women deserves to die. Good riddance. Saves my tax dollars, doesn’t it? Won’t have to feed him for his thousand-year sentence. Couple-thousand dollars for a state burial and we’ll wash our hands of it. Hell, he doesn’t even deserve a burial. Burn his body and toss the ashes.
It’s not an unheard of sort of reaction. It’s not unprecedented, or surprising, either. But frankly, it doesn’t sit well with me.
I consider myself a process-oriented sort of thinker. I like to think we exist in some sort of balance, in a kind of oscillating amalgamation of contrasts that may prove largely inexplicable, but which cohere into something ultimately worthwhile. There is suffering, there is harm and cruelty and incomprehensible grief, but I do not believe evil is ever uni-dimensional: our world is too complex for that.
And the fact is: if I can livestream Al Jazeera in real time and chat with my friends in Britain, if a lovely tech support agent from the Philippines can remotely access my laptop and reconfigure my scanner drivers: if we live in a world where boundaries only truly exist where we imagine them to be, how can we deny our interconnectivity? How can we be anything but inter-related? How can our lives, our hopes and our fears, our successes and our failings: how can we believe that they do not intertwine?
Because that’s what this is about, isn’t it? The human perception of evil. The perception that what is morally and ethically and humanly reprehensible is not only irredeemable, it is Other. It is not merely inhumane, it is in-human. Not human. Not of our species, and largely deemed unworthy of anything more than our static, vehement hatred.
And yes: a man who did horrible things took his own life. Pain and injustice were perpetrated at the hands of this man, and suffering occurred; suffering is still occurring. This cannot be undone. And people—all people—should be held accountable for their actions.
But I believe that to take one’s life—to be compelled toward that particular finality of action—indicates its own sort of suffering. And contrary to some popular beliefs in our current cultural paradigm: the recognition of the co-occurrence of suffering in both victim and perpetrator does not condone the horror. It does not diminish the transgression done. It is not a justification, or an excuse, or a means of lessening the pain of the oppressed, the wounded, the wronged.
It is however, in my opinion, human.
It is human to recognize that to harm is to be harmed in kind. Simone Weil affirms that the destructive power of dehumanization “obliterates anybody who feels its touch. It comes to seem just as external to its employer as to its victim. The conquered brings misfortune to the conqueror.” Thich Nhat Hanh observes, in his poem Please Call Me By My True Names, that “I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones // my legs as thin as bamboo sticks // and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda // I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat // who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate // and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.” It is human to come to terms with the idea that pain should not be celebrated, because when we cause pain, when we destroy, bonds are broken. The reality of our relationality is mangled. Things are lost. Possibilities are diminished: possibilities for learning, for compassion on all sides, for healing, for closure, for the natural course of renewal to arise and take place—for us all to understand the simultaneously beautiful and terrible truths of our natures. This is human.
And I think, perhaps, that we have denied this humanity for too long.
So it doesn’t sit well, with me, to celebrate destruction under the pretense that it was well-deserved. That is was just recompense. Because destruction in itself is nothing more than destruction. The only thing about destruction that we can celebrate, that we can call a triumph, is the healing, the novelty, the creative spirit of human endurance that emerges from the rubble, that rises because suffering is not uni-dimensional: we as human beings are too complex for that.
I like to think that possibility exists in all things, if we turn tender eyes upon the world, if we’re patient enough to look and see. Possibility does not negate, or even directly assuage pain, or suffering, not in the static moment, not in the hurt of the now.
But we are not static. We do not live outside of time, outside of relation. And if we foster possibility, good things can come. Perhaps good things can triumph.
The possibility for their triumph remains.
I can’t celebrate the diminishment, the lessening, of that kind of possibility. I can’t celebrate the antithesis of our humanity. I can’t see vindication, or justice, in the wholesale, un-nuanced scorning of the wrongdoer, because we are all wrongdoers of a kind, we all break and are broken.
And we all have the capacity to rise above.
It is human, I think, to remember that.