All for the love of my eighteen-year old, I attended Murder Con weeks ago. Not a chance in Sherlock did this spark my imagination–until I thought of her. She loves nothing better than watching or reading anything mysterious. Solving problems is rooted in her blood, perhaps because she sat in a Chinese orphanage for 7½ years. The only toy she had was the window she watched the world through. Consequently, her observation skills are keener than the best of them. In a world crowded with images, she can parse out the miniscule case-cracker or lost person at DisneyWorld, during high volume.
MurderCon, also known as Writers’ Police Academy, focused on forensics. Our first two classes were easy enough on my stomach–the use of geology to answer questions, and bio and chemical warfare. (I’d read enough about the Black Death not to be horrified here.) The next class, however, was Blood Evidence. The truck tire hit the country road, gravel and all, in this one. An hour and twenty minutes of blood. Blood spatter (thou shalt never say blood splatter) wallpapered the room. The instructor told a story about the teen son whacking his father with a bat for insurance money. (Don’t fear, sports’ parents. Hammers are the most commonly used crime weapon. Lock up the tools!).
The speaker shifted from words to PowerPoint. The image of an actual dead person lingered on the screen, the way a crime photographer would see him. Methodical, thorough, searching for every drop of blood, every position of the spatter. I had to pause here. This wasn’t makeup like the haunts in the Halloween corn mazes. This had been a living, breathing person, one perhaps with a family, definitely with a soul, now gone from this world forever. The writers leaned in. My daughter hunted for clues. I leaned away. I’ve walked my parents through death, but this one photograph broke the last bit of innocence in me. My landscape changed. One moment this man was doing his desk work on a ship. The next, he was a bloody mess.
As the excellent instructor from Sirchie spoke, I started following his logic. This is where the blood dripped, how it congealed, drying from the outside in.This is where his hair painted sweeps on the Naugahyde chair, like some faux art project. His arm extended, with the fingers curved into his palm, as if he were holding a delicate thing–a lighting bug, a seashell or a diamond ring for his wife.
I started praying in the firearms class. I could tell by the smooth skin and muscles this victim was a young man. As it turned out, he was trying to get out of selling drugs. I knew kids who’d done similar things like this in their youth, who had guns held to their heads, and for some reason, the shooter granted mercy. In one case, the young man’s humor, conjured from a life of wit, somehow broke the spell. The gun was lowered and today, I can hug this person. The young man on the PowerPoint wasn’t so fortunate. He was trying to do the right thing and ended up on a metal table, with family and friends grieving him. Always the body, always the body. His skin and muscles and bones held the clues as to how he was murdered. This is when my fog cleared, and I blanketed “Dear God” prayers over my family, friends and nation.
We skipped a workshop to go to the mall across the street, shopping being my daughter’s other passion. We entered the ironic world of pristine walls and halls, and headless mannequins. Commerce flashed. Mission-minded people rushed. Dads lectured young sons yearning for ball fields. After the immersion of the police state of mind, I thought one thing: soft target. My own little sunburst of happiness rose when I spotted the bra store. My fears crushed by the deep first-world need of undergarments. We breathed deeply the perfume-spritzed air, the perfect relief from hours of crime labs.
At the end of the workshops, my daughter and I lingered in the lobby. The news flashed about El Paso, Texas. Such are the times we live in, when I pray the death rate remains low. But, as we know, it didn’t go down that way, nor did the more recent Odessa, Texas. It seems it never does. The dust hasn’t even settled, the forensics hasn’t even started, before something else crops up, as the cries come from both sides: Ban guns; it’s the person behind the trigger.
You and I have our own sides. I could point to history and constitutional rights, and tell you how this might play out. You would point to your own beliefs and reasons. We’d be civil or snarky, depending on our discipline or aptitude, or heaven helps us, my hormones. But the question reminds the same for all: What in the world do we do here?
The day after MurderCon and El Paso, the morning of Dayton, Pastor Dan asked me during our worship time to pray for him because he’d thrown out his message and was winging it. “We’re talking about the shootings.” He led us through an immense time of lament. We didn’t pick sides and employ rights. We lamented. The Latin root of this word showed up twice to mean ‘bewail.’ That’s what our church did: we bewailed. No, it wasn’t a loud cry of voices or tearing of clothes, as they practiced in the Old Testament times. Though those would have been appropriate responses. It was more at a shrouding of our hearts in pain and sorrow for those lost, for their loved ones and communities.
We struggled as a church of hunters with guns. We were warned to be responsible. We were asked the question that ever one should ask of themselves: if I legally own a gun, would I shoot a person if he or she entered my home uninvited with intent to harm? There is so much that goes into a one-word answer. We were asked to search our hearts. We were commissioned to be schooled in weapons if we chose to own them.
We prayed for the families, the first responders, our local and national governments, our nation. We followed it up with the communion, where Christians remember the shed blood of Christ for our sins to cleanse us from all wrongdoings. If you don’t follow as I do, just know that ancient history is filled with sacrifices involving this live-giving fluid.
Blood. It is everywhere. We pump it into people to save them, as was most surely the case in Texas and Ohio. We stretch our arms out, making a fist, to give it to help others who need bags to be restored.
It is shed in heinous acts, not just in this century, identified by names such as Columbine, El Paso, Dayton and Pulse, but by millions in the 20th century via governments and in the 1300s by the Black Plague. Be it microbe, cancer cell, heart attack or weapon, we each circle the sun for a last time. As we lay dying, our body muscles relax and give up fluids. The ‘what’ of death we get. The how, the when, the where are the unknowns.
The common denominator is the taking of a life. The acts committed in crime are definitely to be handled in a different light than those by disease or ‘natural’ causes. The point in all of them is that life is gone. Fingers curl into themselves, as if remembering the gift once held.
There’s two ways we can go at this point: unbelief or belief. First, I’d like to note that just because I’m white and an old woman at that, and believe in the whole Second Amendment, I’m not a white supremacist. Just because I’m a Christian, doesn’t mean I don’t doubt and ask, why, God? The only thing keeping me from going to unbelief is my years spent as an atheist. The only time I even get why the world is broken is through an understanding of the first five chapters of the Bible, or the Pentateuch. The Torah.
How you process death personally is your choice. How we process these hate crimes as a nation, now there’s the question. Step one, pick your platform: Hollywood, conservative talk radio, the dark web. A hashtag. Step two: rail, be logical, point to the Constitution, prep. Pray. Denounce prayer. Step three: label the other side.
During our bewailing, Pastor Dan asked our church to step up. Look for someone who’s isolated and alone or traveling toward darkness. Reach out. Be a lifeline to another. Be a light. This is hard, and takes time and considerable caution and wisdom. At the very least, pay attention to their words.
At Murder Con, the forensic investigators had a golden rule. It was this: Do no harm. In other words, at a crime scene, whatever your expertise, make sure you do no harm to the evidence so other experts can ascertain information. My dad’s words near the end of his life were even more potent: “leave this world in a better place than you found it.” For him, that was providing work for people at his company, who were his first loves and his last words before falling face down on the kitchen tile. His heart had given out.
I wish I had some magnificent idea here that would bring us all together and solve this problem instantly. I don’t. I’m hesitant to even throw in some Bible. Particularly, because I have watched a woman receive the news of her son’s unnatural death. I’ve fallen to the cold high school floor with her and cried, knowing I had not one word in me that would solve this. The day after, she stood in front of my large window, the sun rising, spiking the sky deep pink, her tears adding to the others throughout the night. There are mothers and fathers and children and grandparents and lovers and friends all over the world doing the very same this morning.
I have not one word that will ease their pain. Only the beat of my heart ushering blood throughout my body, transcending veins and arteries, aching into mind and spirit. Only this breath to hate evil actions, and love on people. It’s the only transcendent weapon I got.