Friday, May 17, 2013

Why We Bury Our Enemies

Changes will come soon to The Threadbare Couch. I've been a bit distracted the past few months with the arrival of sweet Eleanor Emerson, who now is able to laugh and grin at her big brother's antics. She was born during the 12 days of Christmas, mere days from her brother's birthday. My sweet girl is (mostly) sleeping through the night now, so my hands have a wee bit of time to find themselves back at a keyboard and not just patting backs to burp or changing unholy diapers.

Having children is exhausting, because to bear a child is to fall in love, and falling in love is exhausting and gives you a ravenous appetite. I'm head over heels all over again. Just a little punch drunk. There are lots of kinds of parenting. We're very hands-on. Which means a lot of beautiful, messy moments. That are exhausting.

I visited a church member recently; she was on bed rest, expecting twins, and as we chatted her muted TV streamed "special report" and we saw images of people running and bleeding and crying in Boston. The finish line had been bombed - a special kind of cruelty, in many ways. Runners are optimists, athletes train all year for events like this, and the finish line was stolen from them and lives were stolen from people cheering on the sidelines and it was ugly and disgusting.

As the country held its breath and Boston fumed the suspects were hunted down. An entire city ground to a standstill. One angry brother died, the other cowered under a boat tarp and penned a goodbye note. Their uncle raved and denounced.

Our nation is so exhausted. We're a hands-on nation, and we welcome refugees and offer asylum, and it's worth it, but the Recession and bombings and tornadoes and multiple deployments and explosions are exhausting.

And as any parent will tell you, it's easy to lose your temper when you haven't slept, when college finals sound like a restful retreat and you miss the days when you knew - or cared - what day of the week it is. Being a hands-on nation means a lot of beautiful, messy moments.

Americans had forgotten about Chechnya. Soon talking heads speculated about how a person becomes "radicalized" and what went wrong. The media barrage couldn't adequately express what we're all really feeling - tired.

So a man laid in a funeral home, with no place to be buried. He was a traitor - an American citizen had killed members of the American family. I follow current events; I'm a news junkie. But I wasn't prepared for the backlash against this dead traitor. Why? Because we hang traitors. But we treat their bodies with dignity.

To do otherwise is barbaric; to do otherwise is to inflict additional, unimaginable pain on the traitor's widow, on his child. I was appalled as cemetery after cemetery refused the remains.

There are two moments still sacred in the American consciousness - birth and death. Yes, even the horrors of the Gosnell trial are still considered horrors, shunned and rejected as taboo. Birth and death - you don't mess with those. States that execute criminals do so in conditions tightly monitored so that dignity is not compromised: we don't hang our executed criminals from the London Bridge or put their heads on pikes.

Are we so distant from the Civil War, so distant from the American Revolution, that we've forgotten how we treat the enemies on our own soil - no matter what they do to us first?

A few years ago, a terrible shooting occurred in an Amish schoolhouse. The national media flocked to the scene; donations came pouring in for the victims' families. The quiet, peaceful Amish community had been torn to shreds. But then, something remarkable was witnessed...

A line of Amish people stretched through the lobby of the bank. It had occurred to them that they were receiving all this money, but that the shooter had left a widow with children. A broken, devastated widow.
So they opened a bank account for her - and lined up to donate to it. Her husband shot their children; they pooled their resources to help her rebuild a life.

I waited from a distance in Texas, witnessing the chaos on the East Coast. "If I were a Catholic priest with a cemetery on my church property, I'd be stepping forward, offering to help," I thought, thinking of the concept of sanctuary. Finally, news came of an interfaith coalition that had worked to bury this man.

We bury our enemies.
We bury our enemies because we are a civilized society that responds to terror and betrayal with the dignity we want other nations to show our dead.
We bury our enemies because we know that in death, as in birth, we are completely vulnerable.
We bury our enemies because our Savior didn't have a place to lay his head, 
because he was buried in a borrowed tomb, 
and we are commanded to treat our enemies as if they were Jesus in front of us.

We don't have the option of charity fatigue, of disaster fatigue.
We do have the option of sitting vigil with the bereaved - whether they lost a child at the finish line, or a husband in a police shootout.

No comments: