My friend Todd over at “Had a Few Beers” recently wrote a blog about the suicide of Ariel Castro this past Tuesday (link).
In case you missed it, Castro was the guy who had kept several women chained in his house for more than a decade. They were bound, tortured, beaten and raped for years and years. Castro even fathered a child by one of them. You can read about it in any of the 100 stories written (link).
In exchange for life in prison, he pled guilty to 937 counts, including murder and kidnapping. He was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years. After less than a month in custody, he hanged himself in his prison cell (link).
I was batting around the idea of writing a blog on this topic, then saw Todd’s. He brought up some points that I thought were worth exploring—not in a refuting way, but more like a companion piece, maybe? I dunno. Todd knows I luvs.
First, before we get in to attempted logic and rhetoric (always a crap shoot with me), it’s important to recognize the emotional impact of this guy’s actions. I can’t even begin to imagine the levels of pain and psychological damage this monster inflicted.
I wanted to get that out there first. It’s important to let suffering seep into our psyche sometimes and be revolted. We have a tendency to treat people like we would statistics on an Excel spreadsheet—all numbers and hardly any feelings. We’ll talk about ‘them’ and ‘they’ and not realize they are people, with parents, friends, teachers who tried to impact them….
It’s important to remember that people in this case were hurt—severely—over the course of 11 years. It’s important to try and put ourselves in that situation and empathize.
These women were chained to beds, raped, starved, forced to miscarry…unbelievable things that happened while everyone was flipping out about iPhones and the housing crisis and how terrible John Carter was.
A few houses down from normal people griping about normal things…these women lived in a different world…might as well have been another dimension. It was a nightmare. And the nightmare happened…every…day. Christmas, weekends, the first snow of the winter, when the alarm clock goes off and Castro gets up, there’s also the clink of chains….
Second, before I get all kumbaya, hopey-changey and lose some of you, I wanted to introduce an aspect of myself.
I am devoted to the defense of the exploited. Not only through causes or organizations, I will absolutely negate someone’s well being when I see them abusing others, in a bar, next door in an apartment, wherever. Furthermore, I would completely end someone who sought to bring harm to my loved ones. I do believe there is such a thing as righteous indignation.
I’m not a vigilante, but I’m not a pacifist. I grieve when I hear stories about human trafficking. I hate the exploitation of people.
I’m normally a very happy, go-lucky dude. But some of my friends have seen me when I turn. It doesn’t happen very often—like at all. But if that moment comes, you will know it.
So, hi. Nice to meet you. Anyway…
Castro killed himself. He was caught, arrested, tried, sentenced and he killed himself.
As Todd pointed out in his entry, in response, people tend to fall into one of two camps: the ‘rot in hell’ camp and the ‘at least he saved us tax dollars’ camp.
Also, as Todd points out, both sides are pretty much off kilter. Todd says that’s because both sides have been robbed of their vengeance. Castro was able to get by with very little punishment—punishment that we can mete out.
But where Todd, as an atheist, gets to the point where he shrugs his shoulders in anger, I, as a theist, operate in an additional sphere.
I do believe in an afterlife. I do believe we will stand before our creator. It’s my thing. Can’t prove it empirically, like Todd says. Just is my deal.
However, what Todd said to the ‘rot in hell’ group is true, though. If Castro had a moment when he asked for God’s forgiveness, through Jesus he’d get it. When it came time for the rest of us to chill with God in the next age, yes we might very well see that Castro dude.
In fact, there will probably be a whole lot of people chillin’ with God who we didn’t think were good enough. I think we will be floored at who is actually there…and people who aren’t there, even when they seemed so pious.
C.S. Lewis wrote a short book called “The Great Divorce” (link). It’s an allegory, hardly supposed to be taken literally; but in it, a group of people who have been living in a rainy dreary English neighborhood take a magic bus up into the sky and into this verdant majestic world of plains, mountains, rivers and forests. They find that they are nearly transparent and that the sun hurts their eyes, the blades of grass pierce their feet and even drops of water can crush them.
The people are from ‘hell’ and are visiting ‘heaven.’ The fantastical tale centers around glorious, light-enshrined heavenly people coming toward the dreary ghostly people from hell, trying to convince them to stay. If they stay, the idea is they’ll grow stronger, solidify and all that. Again…an allegory. As if Plato’s cave thing was any less bizarre (link)!
One by one, the people from hell decide they’ve had enough and get back on the bus. They are fed up with how they’re being treated, or offended that someone who had done them harm had gotten ‘in’ while they were being kept out, or that someone who was politically or ideologically ‘wrong’ was clothed in light while they were shrouded in shadow.
The whole point was they couldn’t get over themselves. They rejected God’s judgments.
What Todd mentions about judging is partly true. God ultimately judges. We are given things to discern and judge too, sure, but ultimate reconciliation between an individual and God is between the individual and God. We can see evidence of people living changed lives…good fruit and bad fruit…but there’s no formula to know for sure.
In the C.S. Lewis book, the hellish people were so stuck on a situation from their Earthly life, they couldn’t see past it. They felt they knew best. They didn’t think it was fair about such and such. They didn’t think it was right about this and that.
In the Christian texts of the Bible, Jesus instructs those who would follow his example to forgive. He instructs us to love our enemies. He instructs us to treat others as ourselves. In fact, the most important things to do are love God and love others as ourselves.
In doing so, we rise above ourselves and live in another level, for another purpose.
That’s why, for those of who don’t believe in God, Christians seem absolutely crazy.
Adding to the crazy is another situation, though. There are those who call themselves Christians who have decided instead to cultivate hate and vengeance in their hearts, and to use the Bible to justify it. These are a lot of the ‘rot in hell’ crowd. They get some sort of glee out of the idea that such a monster like Castro will burn or be tormented forever.
They can’t get over themselves to see what God might have done even in a life like Castro’s—even at that last second situation that Todd wonders might have happened. These hate-mongers end up being a lot like the hellish people in the Lewis book.
Did he ask? Was he forgiven? I don’t know. Does Castro deserve to be forgiven? Nope.
But, nether do I.
Even though I haven’t done the monstrous things that Castro did, I’ve done things and contributed to causes that have inflicted suffering on others…perhaps monstrous suffering…and I can’t hide behind my country’s flag when the time comes.
But I’ve been forgiven too.
I’ll probably be surprised to see several people on the day after I die. Shoot, some people I’ve wronged might be surprised to see me.
And if it’s too much for any of us to take, if we can’t accept God’s grace could forgive someone like Castro…or drug dealers…or pedophiles…or whoever…perhaps there will be a bus for us to get back on.
There might be a few people who reject grace at the last second because of those who accepted it at the last second.
Castro is out of our hands. I’m angry and heartbroken at the suffering he inflicted and I pray for healing. But there’s no neat bow for the situation—no tidy bit of closure.
This past weekend, an old friend of mine was in town. “Old” as in we’d known each other from a few years back, yet not “old” as in known that well.
We spent a month together, attending an asinine Army school known now as Warrior Leadership Training, but back then as Primary Leadership Development Course.
The idea is that troops need to know how to be noncomissioned officers. And they (we) do. There’s a lot to cover, going from just another dude to someone who is part parent/disciplinarian/mentor.
So this course was the Army’s answer to that. There were some good tidbits among the month of random cleaning details, uniform inspections and hour upon hour of monotone lectures; but, by and large, PLDC or WLC (depending on how old school you are) is something that is endured. And this friend of mine and I, did just that.
We laughed, we laughed more and we cried from laughing. Apart from the course itself, we had a pretty good time.
Anyways. She was in town visiting a clutch of friends of hers that still hang out in the area and wanted to catch up. She also had her 17-month-old son, who was a cute kid. Many of her friends also had young children. So I spent my weekend in the bosom of young parenthood, among the fights, poopy diapers and frequent screeches.
Which, as you might know, is a very different atmosphere than I’m used to.
Apart from my family, whom I am blessed to be loved by and love wholeheartedly, I have been alone for my whole life. As a military child, I learned to start over every couple of years. There is no home. There is no childhood friendship. There really is nothing consistent other than change.
This is good in that it can make a person very self-sufficient, but it also teaches someone to remain very emotionally distant.
I’ve also been completely alone in my “adult” life—not for lack of trying. Call it bad luck, call it awkwardness, who knows, I swing and miss with the whole relationship thing.
It folds in with the motif of the street urchin looking in someones window to a family enjoying warmth and laughter. It’s just a different world.
So the weekend was a little jarring, to be honest—a good jarring, though.
In little bits, I had someone in my life for a few hours a day. I watched the little guy play. I kept him from falling. I carried him around. It was nice.
I also was completely exhausted after she put him to sleep. Hats off to parents—especially single parents. I knew it was excruciating, but wow, yeah. Still, it was only my first day-ish. I imagine it’s just like running, I’ll have to work up to the longer-distance thing.
So now, back at house, no kids, alone is more alone than ever. Quiet is more quiet. My thoughts resonate too much. There’s no one else to bounce ideas off of. There’s no one to share in things.
Alone has always sucked, to be honest. Sure, there’s freedom in aloneness, which I’m sure is missed by those tied down, but there’s also a cold emptiness, a pins-and-needles numbness from standing in a snowy evening too long. Things are stiff. Laughing at a movie screen feels weird. Sitting by the kitchen at a restaurant never gets fun.
I know God has a plan, and, ultimately, I do trust in it. I throw impatient spats now and again. I just didn’t expect the winter to be so long.