It was a front page banner headline. The family was well known, respected and popular in their small town. Pillars of their community and farm owners. The father a volunteer rural fire fighter. The mother a nurse at the local emergency centre. The children, two girls and a boy, all under 10, looked happy and just a touch mischievous in the family portrait that took up most of my ipad screen.
The picture was beautiful and arresting – pregnant with life. It was as if, after that moment of frozen photographic time, each of them were about to sprung into animation. The sisters teasing their brother; the mother distracted by the antics, and the father smiling at it all.
I have not been able to bring myself to re-publish the family photo here.
The news story said the father had taken a shotgun and blown his wife and children away, then drove away before apparently thinking the better of it, and killing himself.
Nobody had any idea anything was wrong. Their neighbours were stunned. Nobody had a bad word to say about the family. A perfect family one day; utterly obliterated the next.
I have silent tears writing this. I find that I cannot bring myself to visualise those last few minutes from which there is no return. Even less can I imagine what the father can have had in his mind. Nevertheless, deeply disturbing images are circulating at the edge of my consciousness. Understanding this act and placing it in the scheme of things is a step too far for me.
I do not mean that I want the father to suffer. No doubt he did, and if the afterlife calls out for a reckoning, he will. That sort of thinking is beyond me as I sit and write. I’m grateful that I can leave that part of it to God. Instead what grips me is a feeling of violation. My comfortable little everyday world which is snug and safe, and in which things are mostly just, mostly predictable, has once again shown beyond doubt that evil is never far away.
“I’m back!” A foul disgusting presence hisses. “Was I out of sight, out of mind? Well, this was just a little reminder for you.”
If I needed any reminder of the reality of evil, this news story provided it afresh.
The news story had a shelf life of maybe 48 hours tops. I suspect the memory of those young children smiling mischievously into the camera will stay with me rather longer than that.
I remember a visit Sue and I made to the Jewish Museum in Berlin a few years ago. In particular I remember one exhibit. It consisted of hundreds of roughly fabricated metal ‘faces’, all with unique expressions, lying strewn across a floor. They represented some the lost persons who had been slaughtered in the holocaust. It would have been very easy to have walked away from that exhibit in despair. Instead it was a stimulus for me to remember that the evil which perpetrated the holocaust has not triumphed, and never will.
Evil, it seems, will always be close by. Those who laugh at the existence of evil are, in my opinion, fools. I take it very seriously. I have seen enough to know it is real, but I believe also that somehow, it is no match for good.
With that belief, I am still shocked and disturbed at things like this family’s fate, but I know with a quiet confidence that such things do not define my existence or yours. Evil is what it is. It is not the answer and it is most definitely not the winner.
Forgive me God, but I just wish you would move a bit more quickly to crush and eliminate evil. But then I realise that would mean you would need to attend to those parts of me that need crushing and eliminating as well.
As I said, forgive me God.