“What we see isn’t what we see but what we are.” – Fernando Pessoa
Four lives and as Grandma Moses said,“Life is what we make it.” First up, the past week there was another instance of endemic institutional hypocrisy. This time, it was epitomized by one more cassock-wearing clerical-collared casuists, the free-spending German bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst.
Denying he has “a pompous lifestyle,’’ kiss his ring and move on for there’s ‘No shame in his game.’ He’s merely keeping faith, after all, with a centuries’ old church hierarchical tradition that ‘living well is the best revenge.’
And besides, the so-called ‘Bling Bishop’ is just ‘making ends meet.’ So why the flack over his posh new $42 million residence? Priestly vows? Paraphrasing George Herbert — lotta wealth, little care. Or as the joke goes, “If this be poverty, bring on chastity!”
Then there was UC Berkeley law school grad Justin Alexander Teixeira, whose last idea of a good time was drinking too much, beheading an exotic bird, and getting himself arrested. The aspiring lawyer was sentenced this week to 190 days of manual labor along with educational and physical training in a military-style ‘boot camp’ in Nevada. So much for future lawyering.
Which brings me to what Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Teixeira and Bishop Tebartz-van Elst notwithstanding, for everybody else contemplated by Thoreau, there live and die testaments to his somber observation.
Four years ago I posted about an 83-year old man’s lonely death on a golf course, “a peculiar place for the dolorous denouement of his life,” I wrote. Although — or maybe because it was a suicide, I couldn’t help but remember poet John Donne’s words, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.”
I’ve not forgotten that elderly man’s death on the golf course. And in a no less disturbing way, I’m still troubled by a short news item I read in Colorado this past August and which was updated last month.
Certainly it’s easier to grasp the motivations of a terminally ill 83-year old man but I still can’t quite get my head around the life of “quiet desperation” police say animated the actions of Grisel Xahuentitla-Flores.
The 29-year old Durango, Colorado woman is alleged to have tried to kill herself and her children by sealing up her house and turning on the gas stove after putting her two young daughters to bed.
Xahuentitla-Flores has been charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder and two counts of child abuse. Fortunately for her children and for herself, the alleged murder-suicide was unsuccessful. Also see “Mother charged with attempted murder” – The Durango Herald
It’s a horrifying. And most of all, an inexcusably desperate story. Her husband and primary means of support was earlier arrested for domestic violence and being unlawfully present in the U.S., he faced likely deportation. As for herself, she had just lost her job and faced the prospects of not having the money to feed her daughters.
So after spending what money she did have to give her kids “the best day ever” of a movie, ice cream and playtime in the park, on the evening of the “best day ever,” prosecutors allege she planned for everyone to go to sleep and never wake up again. This is what police say she told someone at the hospital where they were taken following the botched murder-suicide.
At 19 I had a significant epiphany. It dawned on me then that every person I would ever meet has an unlooked-for life story — indiscernible — unless we take the time to have them tell it.
Sadly for a despondent young Colorado mother and a once desperately sick old man, time too often overtakes the telling.
Photo Credits: “Der Limburger Bischof Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst,” by Christliches Medienmagazin pro at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution;”CD Backside,” by Andrea Rose at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution; “Stove – Black White and Shadows,” zeeweez by at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution; “Saddest. Sight. Ever., by Jason Rosenberg at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution.