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2/7/04

Home______In Memory of Carlie Brucia

Carlie Brucia has been on my thoughts lately. Abducted, then raped and murdered, she died as nobody should, especially not an eleven year old. The video surveillance camera shows her being quietly led off, her hand in the man's, as if adult authority is not to be challenged. This is a powerful, disturbing, scene, and one that reaches into human nature itself.


In my youth I met André Gide one semester. His novel, The Immoralist, introduced me to existential philosophy, which raised the concept, If God is dead, then everything is permitted. As my father would say, it was Tom-Foolery, but I didn't know it then. Wherever I walked, metaphysically speaking, my feet straddled a seismic fault, and I sought solid ground. After while, though, I discovered that I really was after an escape from the world as I found it.

Each minute, each hour, each day, a Carlie is somewhere ripped from the safety of father, mother, and siblings, and plunged into horror. No wonder that she did not struggle at first. The furniture of society conspires to promote the illusion of home. We have traffic lights, policemen, law, order. We have popcorn at movies, TV sit-coms, football games, and family dinners. When little Carlie was led away, she was probably fearful, but obedient to the illusion.

The social fabric is tissue-thin, sustained by the illusion. We laugh at Jay Leno, scorn Saddam Hussein, as we watch their phosphate images on television screens. They are social constructs, thousands of miles away; yet they are closer in mind than our next door neighbors, many of whom we do not know. Let the economy collapse, nuclear holocaust erupt, and see how quickly the constructs disappear.

Brutally, suddenly, Carlie Brucia discovered that the world is not as it seems. A father myself, I feel her parents' anguish when I think of her. Despite years of sordid news events, I still ask Why?

Covering the trial of the Nazi Adolph Eichmann, Hannah Arendt coined a phrase, the banality of evil, and it has become her legacy to our understanding of murders such as Carlie's. Evil is almost always banal. We must remain vigilant and not assume that it always looms as a large warning. WH Auden said it well: "About suffering they were never wrong, the old masters: how well they understood its human position: how it takes place while someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; how, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting for the miraculous birth, there always must be children who did not specially want it to happen, skating on a pond at the edge of the wood. . . ." (Musée des Beaux Arts)

At this moment as you read these words, somebody somewhere is raped, murdered, robbed, tortured, or discovers a cancerous tumor.

Like the bumper stickers proclaiming Shit happens, so does evil. We think of it as monstrous, satanic in proportions, its quintessential image the jetliners slamming into the World Trade Center. But it is banal--trite, common-place, everyday. The Al Qaeda terrorists smiled at the lady when they checked out of the hotel. They said thank you to the ticket agent at the airline counter. A neighbor describes Joseph P. Smith, arrested for killing Carlie, as playing with his three daughters, buying them a puppy, building them a goldfish pond.

In a post-modern, deconstructionist, world, the term evil may sound outmoded, but I believe it exists. I must believe so. Otherwise, things make no sense to me. I cannot shrug away the horrible fate of Carlie as tough luck.

Carlie's is the world as I find it and it must be faced.

Albert Camus' The Plague is about fight, not against disease, not against German soldiers, but against indifference to human suffering.

Camus believed that in each of us a spark of goodness smolders, which we can choose to fan into flame, and with this novel he develops his belief. For Camus, actions define the man and the citizens of his novelistic city have defined themselves into meaninglessness.

The people of Oran, Algeria, are alienated from one another. In torrid summers, they stay indoors, shutters closed, each turned in on himself. "The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits. Our citizens work hard, but solely with the object of getting rich." Involved in his own concerns, each is removed from society and the common welfare. Life is ennui, meaningless. The plague changes everything. It offers people a chance to regain meanings.

Like evil, an epidemic belongs not to a person but to communities. Evil for Camus is indeed a plague and something we must fight against. We cannot doubt it exists. As the townspeople gather together they discover new meaning; their lives are shaped by belief in the good of community and hatred of the plague.

Tarrou, an outsider, cannot stand to see human suffering ignored by the masses. To correct this, he gathers sanitary squads, formerly complacent men now eager for difficult daily jobs. Tarrou explains, "All I maintain is that there are on this Earth pestilences and there are victims, and it's up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences."

That is my belief and with every news item about Carlie Brucia I am reminded of it.

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