Sparkle Hayter is a terrific writer (the hilarious Robin Hudson murder mysteries) and comedian, who now lives in Mumbai. She has done so for a couple of years now, working in Bollywood. She seems to love living there, as she has loved living in Tokyo, The Chelsea Hotel (NYC), and in an art squat in Paris. It was in Paris that The Best Beloved and I became friends with her. Sparkle was born in Pouce Coupe, B.C., Canada and raised in Edmonton. In 1980 she ran away to New York City where she ended up in TV news, primarily for CNN. After CNN, she moved to Pakistan and went into Afghanistan with the mujahedin to cover the Afghan war against the Soviets. She says that after one particularly harrowing four-hour trek through a minefield behind some Frenchmen and a flatulent packhorse, she decided to give up full-time journalism. In short, Sparkle’s leading a pretty darned exciting life.
She once said to me, “I’m just a girl getting by on my wits and a few pretty dresses.” I’ve always thought an entire book could be written around that line.
So, you can imagine how concerned we were when the terrible news from Mumbai broke. However, a few hours later she posted on Facebook that she was out of the city, and awaiting news from friends, who it later turned out were okay as well. I wrote her a note and said, “Stay in touch and be careful, won’t you?” She wrote back and said, “Careful? Hmm. But I will keep in touch, of course. Happy American Thanksgiving. In spite of everything, so much to be thankful for.”
Well, that’s just Sparkle. Careful is secondary to living. I have enormous admiration for her.
Then this morning my step-mum forwarded a possibly true email from someone whose brother apparently escaped from the Oberai Hotel. It’s an astonishing tale of survival by inches and I’m sure it’ll make its way around the cyber planet. It is full of gratitude and thanks to God for various kindnesses shown him by the people of Mumbai, and assorted life-saving coincidences and then, somewhere near the end of the email he says:
“The people who did this have no soul. They have no hearts. They are simply the living manifestation of evil and they only know killing and murder.
We — all of us — need to understand that.
Their target tonight was first and foremost Americans. Why? Because they fear everything that America stands for. They fear hope and change and freedom and peace. Let’s make no mistake; they would have shot me and my children point blank tonight with out a moment’s hesitation. Most of us sorta know that but sometimes we equivocate. We can’t equivocate. Not ever.
I know that I want to go back. Lay some flowers. Wrap my arms around these people. Say thank you. Spend some money on overpriced hotel gifts and tip well. And generally give the bastards who did this the big fuck you and show them that I am not – I repeat not – afraid of them.”
Now, I can understand why this man feels this way. He must have been terrified, and terror breeds rage, and grief eventually, but first rage. Still, I can’t say I agree with him on all points, and I’m certainly not willing to make judgments on whether people have souls or don’t or whether they are the manifestation of evil. Certainly I think there are people who live very far from the God of my understanding, and who do very evil things indeed, but I think we make a tragic mistake when we demonize anyone, and a mistake that causes us even more harm, since it leaves us with festering hatred and anger and then we react out of that hatred and anger and the cycle goes round and round. I hope we will not rise to this soul-bruised survivor’s insistence that the perpetrators of this hideous crime have no souls, no heart. It will do us no good.
I also don’t know if these people, the gunmen, fear hope and change and freedom and peace, which is what the survivor says America stands for. (Indeed, there are days when I don’t even know if that IS what America stands for, although I hope it is, and with a Barack Obama soon to be in the white house, I hope we’ll see more of that manifested.) On the contrary, I think they might, MIGHT, long for hope and change and freedom and peace even more than I do, since they have so much less of it than I do, even if they evidently have absolutely no sane idea of how to go about getting it. Believing you must destroy something completely in order to rebuild a purer version seems indisputably insane to me, but then so does God’s destroying the world with a flood (except for Noah et al) and so does His darn near wiping out everyone in Sodom because he found them not quite to His liking, until Abraham bargained with him. Still, you can see where the misguided might be able to cite divine precedent.
I do think this survivor was right when he said the gunmen probably would not have hesitated to kill him and his children had they been given the opportunity. How unspeakably sad. It makes you bow your head for a moment under the weight of it, doesn’t it?
I think of Flannery O’Connor’s story “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” In this American masterpiece of Christian literature, an old lady and her entire family are wiped out by a serial killer. In the final scene, when the killer, who is called The Misfit, has just sent his cohorts into the woods to shoot the old lady’s son and his wife and their children. The old lady begs for mercy and calls out to Jesus. The rest of the scene goes like this — The Misfit speaking first:
“Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,” The Misfit continued, “and He shouldn’t have done it. He thown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but thow away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can — by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,” he said and his voice had become almost a snarl
“Maybe He didn’t raise the dead,” the old lady mumbled, not knowing what she was saying and feeling so dizzy that she sank down in the ditch with her legs twisted under her.
“I wasn’t there so I can’t say He didn’t,” The Misfit said. “I wisht I had of been there,
” he said, hitting the ground with his fist. “It ain’t right I wasn’t there because if I had of been there I would of known. Listen lady,” he said in a high voice, “if I had of been there I would of known and I wouldn’t be like I am now.” His voice seemed about to crack and the grandmother’s head cleared for an instant. She saw the man’s face twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest. Then he took off his glasses and began to clean them.
Hiram and Bobby Lee returned form the woods and stood over the ditch, looking down at the grandmother who half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood with her legs crossed under her like a child’s and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky.
Without his glasses, The Misfit’s eyes were red-rimmed and pale and defenseless-looking. “Take her off and throw her where you thrown the others,” he said, picking up the cat that was rubbing itself against his leg.
“She was a talker, wasn’t she?” Bobby Lee said, sliding down the ditch with a yodel.
“She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
“Some fun!” Bobby Lee said.
“Shut up,” Bobby Lee,” The Misfit said. “It’s not real pleasure in life.”
And so the story ends, with little mercy in this world, but with a transcendent moment wherein the doomed old lady becomes The Ineffable and sees, even in the eyes of a “heartless” murderer, one of her own broken children.
I have been haunted for several years now by some Amish people The Best Beloved and I met two weeks prior to the horrible slaughter of schoolgirls in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We had talked about non-violence and forgiveness, with no idea of what was about to come. I asked a young man what he would do if, God forbid, a madman broke into his house with a gun, threatening to kill his family. He replied that he didn’t know what he’d do, but he hoped he would try and talk to the man and help him find peace, but if that didn’t work, he hoped he would not try to respond with violence in any way, even if it meant he and his family would die. I was somewhat skeptical of this and it must have showed, so the young man continued. “If I used force and violence to stop him, I would become as he is, and that would do no one any good, it would only make the world more violent. But if I didn’t, even if we died — a thing which comes to all people — then perhaps someone would talk about it, would hear about how we found the power, in love, to remain in love, and that might heal someone’s heart.”
I still have trouble not crying when I think of that, especially given what was to come less than two weeks later. And what makes it all the more poignant is that after the horrible murders the Amish behaved precisely as their faith had trained them — they forgave. In fact, they did more. They made sure their forgiveness was grounded in action. They reached out to the widow of the man who had killed their children, and visited her and prayed with her, and made sure she has enough money, for she, in their shared grief, is now one of them. They went to his funeral, and she came to the funeral of their children. They made sure grief and tragedy brought them together, healed them, mended hearts, instead of blowing them apart.
I wonder what would happen if the survivors of this horrible event in Mumbai looked for the grieving families of the now-dead terrorists and comforted them and sought solace with them, rather than instantly seeking more violence, retribution, assault? What would happen if, indeed, we grieved with all the world for its brokenness, it’s lack of hope, it’s longing for peace and understanding? What would happen?
Oh, I know. I’m just dreaming, aren’t I? Foolish and spoiled and I’ve never felt the sort of sorrow nor known the sort of terror others have. I agree. And if I had been there, if My Best Beloved were killed, I too, would probably want to rend and tear and bite and slaughter. But wouldn’t that be me at my, understandably, worst possible moment? And wouldn’t I want someone to hold me, to comfort me, to love me, until I could begin to love again myself. Wouldn’t I want someone, when I’m in my worst moment, to be better than that to guide me to my better self? Which is why I don’t believe in the death penalty, I guess. Sure, the desire for vengence is ‘normal’, but it is me at my worst, not my best… but that’s a discussion for another day.
For now I ask only: What would happen if we could do that for each other — be better selves, seek to comfort, rather than be comforted, seek to love, rather than be loved,… What on earth would happen…