Sometimes you come across a book that touches you and really makes you think instead of just entertaining you briefly. I just re-read such a book. The Snow Garden by Christopher Rice is a book....well, I'm going to give you my summary since the book has none that I've ever found. It's a book about a group of college students, all of whom have a tragic past that they are trying to escape, by creating themselves anew, some more than others. Randall Stone, who is running from the fact that he (possibly unintentionally) killed his entire town, is the most successful at doing so, although all of them, and even a professor, are all moderately successful at this task. The book follows them from when they start at the college, backtracking into their pasts to give you the story of why they are so desperate to escape who they are. It's a really good book.
As I read it, and after I finished it late this afternoon, I couldn't help but wonder, how many of us would really like to do this ourselves. I mean, I'll be the first to admit there are some things I'd like to outrun, change, erase, or whatever I could do to eliminate them from my history. But, given the actual opportunity, the chance, to really do it, would I? When I sit here right now, with it not being a true possibility, I can say yes, I would. But I also know that that's not a realistic answer, because I know I can't do it, so it's easy to say I would.
But, the weirdest thing about all this is that as I'm having these thoughts, I get a phone call. Someone that I've been acquainted with, and who's been a friend of my family for years, shot his girlfriend in the face and then killed himself last night. Her young son discovered her lying on the couch, injured but alive, and found his body. It seems so strange to have finished this book and now am trying to accept that someone I knew could do something like this. There is no explanation at this point for why he did it, although there will never be one to satisfy those left behind. What reason can you give for attempting to kill someone you love, and then killing yourself? What can you say that will ease the suffering and the grief that those who are left to pick up the pieces and carry on? As far as I've ever known, there is nothing.
But, at the same time, I'm also reminded of Stephen King's Lisey's Story, which is, to quote Nora Roberts, at its core, a love story. This book shows you the strange and twisted ways that people will sometimes show their love. We always think that people who abuse their children, kill their spouses, or kill themselves, obviously don't love those people. And while it will never make such tragedies right or acceptable, it does make you take a step back and think, "Wait a minute. What s/he did wasn't right. And obviously there was something wrong there. But maybe I shouldn't be so quick to say s/he didn't love them."
I say that because I know that in no time, there are going to be people who are going to say that he must not have loved her, or that he hated her, or what have you. And you know what, maybe they will be right. But, maybe, just maybe, they're not. Maybe he did love her. Maybe the problem did not lie in his feelings for her, but his feelings for himself, or some other situation. That doesn't make it right.
I'm not condoning what he did. I'm not saying he's right, or that what he did was acceptable, okay, or even understandable. I don't understand it. To be honest, I don't know that I want to understand it. That might require going somewhere in my mind that I don't want to go, somewhere where insanity and depravation lives in all of us. But what I am saying is that we should not judge him, should not be judge and jury in the trial of his life. Obviously, he made a mistake, and it's not one he can ever atone for or make right now. So maybe we should cut him some slack, and instead of passing judgment, think of those he left behind. Those, like the girlfriend he shot, who now has to forever wonder why he did this. Or her son, who will forever wake up from nightmares in which he continues to find his mother's bloody form on their couch. Or his best friend and business partner, who doesn't understand any of it, and just wants his best friend alive and well again. None of them want to hear anyone say how horrible a person he was, or how he didn't love whoever, or deserved what he got or any of the other millions of stupid, petty, judgmental comments we all make when we see these situations on the news and in the paper. Yes, I've done it too. But now that the news story exists outside the TV and the paper for me, I realize how wrong we all are to do that.
His friends and family will grieve for him. We will, because regardless of his reasons, he was a living man and he deserves to have someone grieve for him. But we will also grieve for the ones he left behind, the ones he left to try to pick up shattered pieces of life and try to glue them back together into some resemblance of what they used to be, even though it will never be the same. That gaping hole that was him will never be filled, and life will never be the same.