A Distant Pair of Wings

I watched Ariel Castro’s sentencing yesterday. Justice was served. He got the same sentence he imposed on those three young women, imprisonment. But, with no hope of escape.

As I listened to the man’s rambling speech I was reminded of the BTK killer’s bizarre 30-minute monologue at his sentencing. And as Castro kept repeating that he was not a monster, I was further reminded of the 2003 film entitled Monster. Charlize Theron portrayed a real life serial killer, Aileen Wuornos, who was executed in Florida in 2002 for murdering six men. Like this guy in Cleveland, Wuornos didn’t think she was a monster either. “I’m not a bad person. I’m a real good person,” she said.

According to Merriam-Webster, the word ‘monster’ originates with the “Middle English monstre, from Anglo-French, from Latin monstrum omen, monster, from monere to warn.”

Some of our monsters come with early warning systems, like many of these school shooters. There are omens, but we largely ignore them, and since they don’t get the psychological help they need, they kill. Other monsters, like BTK and the Cleveland guy do not seem to send any warning signals at all. On the surface, they appear to be normal, well-adjusted members of society, and we are unable to see past their carefully crafted facades to glimpse the psychopaths within until it is too late for their victims.

There are those who feel that humanity is more violent now than in past generations. I don’t think so. We always been violent. We always warred, and I sense that these individual acts of depravity have always been with us as well. What’s changed is that we hear about more of them because of 24/7 news. Another change is that with automatic weapons a lone gunman can kill more people than ever before.

The religious right likes to blame science for this perceived upsurge in violent acts. The largely agnostic/atheistic left blames religion. But the truth is there are no simple, easy, answers. Like almost everything else in life, it’s complicated. So are the solutions.

butterfly3Paradoxically, truth can be simple, but not always easy. I heard truth in the words of Michelle Knight, who in the statement she read before the court told her former captor, “I can forgive you, but I can never forget.” During her 11 years of torture, this young woman, whom I believe has a learning disability, not only survived but helped the other women survive, as prosecutors described Thursday morning. Instinctively, she acted as a bodhisattva, or as she herself put it in the message she posted on the Cleveland police department’s website, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, she became a butterfly.”

The other day I quoted the Dhammapada. The lines that follow read,

In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.

The real story in Cleveland is not of the monster, but of the three women whose story of survival serves as a lesson and inspiration for us all – the three who emerged from a cocoon of hell to become butterflies.

Speaking of butterflies, and love . . . out on the new horizon . . . a distant pair of wings . . .


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