Walking Away from a Murder

His girlfriend had recently got back together with him. He’d have been better off without […]

Chad Bird / 6.18.18

His girlfriend had recently got back together with him. He’d have been better off without her. But tell that to an eighteen year old who’s in love. She was all he had, and all he wanted. So when he lost her, he thought he lost everything. And when he got her back, he thought he regained everything.

Loneliness creates vacuums in the souls of men that they often fill with women who make them even lonelier.

But Tom, drunk on misplaced hopes, only felt the intoxication of happiness. Finally, after years of “family life” where there was little family and no life, here was a woman, and a life, and happiness. For Tom, the sun of laughter was just beginning to rise. And he would risk nothing to lose it.

So when he saw the man stabbing a young woman in the parking lot where he worked, thrusting the blade into her body over and over, he kept walking, only faster. He kept walking to his pickup, got in, locked the doors, cranked the stereo up full blast, cradled his face in his hands, and rocked back and forth, trying not to hear the screams.

But the screams were now inside him. And how can you turn off that kind of sound? How can you un-see what he had seen? How can you undo the undoing of a life?

It was a large city, and the factory where Tom worked that summer employed hundreds of immigrant workers. When he checked the newspaper the next day, and the next, and still the next, there was no story. There would never be a story, except this one that Tom told me after the sun had set, late one night, while the screams in his head weren’t quite as loud as usual.

I can’t tell you how often, over the last twenty years, I’ve relived Tom’s nightmare in my own mind. I’ve put myself in situation after situation where someone’s life was on the line, and imagined myself coming to their rescue. Running into the burning house. Throwing my body between the bullet and the intended victim. Crawling up onto the edge of the bridge with them to talk them into giving life a second chance.

It’s easy to be the hero when I’m the one making up the stories.

But I’m not 18 and in love. And I don’t see the first rays of a sun rising in my darkened life. And I’m not being asked to risk my life to save a stranger.

I am a raging storm of fears and self-doubts and self-damnations. My daydreams of being a hero seek to silence the screams that reverberate in my own mind—screams from all those from whom I’ve walked away in their hour of deepest need. Depressed friends who, I found out too late, were flirting with thoughts of suicide. Frightened men whose marriages were secretly crumbling. Scared children who covered their trembling heart with a hardened shell of rebellion. I’ve been “too busy” for them all. I’ve mouthed a “Hope things get better” while I hastened on to my happy place. And, now, like my friend, Tom, I try not to hear the screams. I try to un-see the tears. I wish I could go back and do the right thing, say the loving word, but I can’t.

My friend, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I hope by now you have found peace. I hope the young woman who was murdered found peace with her God. And the man who killed her—well, I try to hope that he has found it, too.

For all souls in whom a cacophony of screams and regrets and what-ifs resound night and day, silence is the sweetest gift imaginable. Oh, to find, in this loud world blasting with accusation, a quiet place where the only sound is the silence of acceptance, a peace that needs no language, where the grammar of grace is expressed only in a loving and welcoming embrace that speaks volumes.

Such a strange place does indeed exist. It is in the silence of a Lamb who was led to the slaughter, and uttered not a word to save himself. In him our screams, even in this life, find a place to die. His body is a soundproof tomb where terrors and regrets and exploding sobs go to scream themselves into muteness. And, sometimes, incredible as it seems, years later these screams rise again into songs of laughter. In them we hear a whisper that’s borrowed joy from the last day to inject into a present that often seems too dismal to bear.

For me and my friend and all in whom the echoes of yesterday’s pain still slithers down the inner canyons of our souls, that unspeaking Lamb speaks, in the silence of his mercy, the only words in which we’ll ever grasp peace.