I was once given a piece of sage advice by an Australian man much better at giving it than hearing it:
“Never apply your logic to someone else’s situation.”
Early Friday morning, I got to see that reality play out in a brutal technicolor. Over the course of 15 minutes, I watched as something as innocuous as a candy end a man’s life in a manner just as brutal as any bullet could ever be.
A single mistake took a man from being an otherwise healthy 31 year old to dead in less time than a TV sitcom. The stark contrast between my logic “Oh, looks good I’ll have one” to his situation of a life ending peanut allergy could not have been made more clear.
From the second I heard my friend scream, with an unmistakable air of panic in his voice, “Call 911 and find a goddamned EpiPen.”
My logic (or my lizard brain lack of it) immediately kicked into gear, and I was sprinting to ransack a pile of medical supplies while breathlessly trying to communicate with the 911 operator. The other person I was standing with had a completely different reaction and had no idea what had happened until midway through the next day.
Different logic, same situation.
I find that the last year has thrust me into several situations where my logic was tested and questioned, by strangers and friends alike. The morning of May 11th, 2020, I got a text from my grandfather’s cousin saying that my baby aunt was missing in Colorado. There was a posited, yet easily debunked theory about a mountain lion attack, which quickly gave way to an obvious truth.
My situation changed drastically that day.
That text kicked off a series of events that tore my extended family apart, showing the human frailty and the power of human delusion when dealing with seemingly inexplicable tragedy. To my logical mind, after asking a few questions of law enforcement about drag paths, blood trails, and the astronomically low odds of a mountain lion attack, I knew what had happened.
There had been a cold, brutal and narcissistic monster in our midst almost since my birth, and Auntie Suzanne had fallen victim to a collective ignoring of the elephant in the room.
As her husband, the father of my cousins, quickly became the prime suspect, I watched the mental contortions of those around me as they tried to protect themselves from the brutal reality of a terrible situation. There was the straw grasping mentality of some, who nearly drove themselves to schizophrenia attempting to believe any scenario but the awful truth. There was cavalier vigilantism, the thought that “we know what happened, why haven’t they arrested him yet?” There was the sine wave of emotion trying to protect the fragile ego of those who loved her, attempting to tell themselves that “I wasn’t really that close to her.”
That advice that I’d been given in the punchy accent of my beloved dingo kicker rang in my ears, at a resonance nearly entirely drowned out by the buzzing of helpless rage.
Even though we’d all lost the same person, who showed each of us a warmth and love inextricable from her character, our situations were not the same.
Nor was our logic.
As I sat outside that rustic cabin Friday morning, hands still damp with the residue of sweat from the chest compressions that I’d applied, death became as real to me as it ever had. All of the unnecessary deaths that had impacted me in this life came rushing back, from the violent death of my beloved aunt to the overdose deaths of friends whose logic and situation collided to end their mortal lives while creating carnage amongst those of us left behind that would last for far longer lifetimes.
That dependable God-given gift of logic left me without a shield for this tragic situation. Yet that advice drifted up to the top.
Suddenly, after all these years, I knew what he was trying to get into my head.
Self-preservation is a the strongest of our instincts. Freud’s fixation with the sexual impulse is merely a manifestation, as reproduction is just self-preservation by other means. The human mind can twist internal logic to protect itself from tragedy and destruction in ways that make no rational sense to a casual bystander. I have seen the twisted logic that my aunt’s murderer used to internally protect his Olympian yet fragile ego.
“As a Christian, if this tragedy caused one person to find Christ, it would have been worth it to Suzanne”
“When she married me, it was for life”
“I would have killed for that girl”
“I’ll do anything, I just want you back.”
All of these statements, taken in a vacuum, might have been true, yet when tied together after a monstrous crime, they represent such a perversion of right and wrong that it gives me vertigo.
I know much of the situation that created that monster. A narcissistic addict of a father tying the absolution of his failures to the athletic success of his only son, an enabler of a mother willing to look the other way at any sin so long as it didn’t deface the façade of a Christian family, and a wife who tried to compensate for her utter lack of agency with an internal warmth that she wrongly believed could melt the damage of a lifetime in her brutal husband.
His situation informed his logic, and attempting to apply mine to it would be like trying to read a book in French knowing only English. The letters might be the same and the essence of what the author is trying to elucidate is universal , but the system will never be able to compute.
As a Christian, I believe in the inherent brokenness of man. Call it original sin, call it mortality, call it whatever cultures as diverse as the Hindus and the Aztecs have, but that is a fundamental truth in every society. In my mind, that admission of brokenness is reassuring, because that admission of inevitable imperfection gives us the grace to stumble and rise again.
Taken a different way, that admission of brokenness allows us to view the situations and logic of others without the need to judge. Once one can admit how wires get crossed internally, it becomes much easier to give the grace we beg for ourselves to others.
Brokenness is no carte blanche for sins. As John Lennon said, “An error becomes a mistake when you fail to correct it.” Lives filled with human interaction will always be rife with errors, but it is our ability and our willingness to correct them that separates us from the logical computing machines that return DIV/0 when confronted with a flawed situation where immutable logic is applied.
Being confronted with death in the most graphic and physical of manners, I’ve been reminded how critical it is to attempt, with painstaking effort, to correct our errors before our situations pervert our logic and leave us defenseless against our inherent brokenness. Right and wrong are never so far away as our chivalrous children’s books would have us believe, but they are distinct nonetheless.
I’ll never be able to forgive a man whose brokenness stole Auntie Suzanne from me, sent the shrapnel of tragedy careening through my family structure, and left the wonderful, warm yet broken mother of his children in a series of dumpsters, but I can use that evil as a mirror into my own life, because that’s what my logic calls me to do.
Errors, they’ll be aplenty, but mistakes can be corrected.
Admission is a good first step.