I know it's Mother's Day, and I apologize in advance, because I'm about to talk about and share something that no parent - no human being - really wants to think about. I was catching up on a friend's blog last night (Hope Springs Eternal) and she talked about this article. The article is... devastating, and yet it's something I feel compelled to share. I thought about posting it to Facebook last night, but my thoughts on it were longer than a simple Facebook status message would allow, and somehow sharing it on Facebook just didn't feel SERIOUS enough. So I'm sharing my thoughts here.
The Washington Post article, Fatal Distraction, can be found here. I urge you to read it before you continue reading my post. It's about parents who forget their children in the backseats of their cars, leaving them to die in the heat, and whether or not these terrible tragedies should be crimes. I warn you, the article is graphic. It's lengthy. At times I felt like it might tear me apart to read it. But it is incredibly well written, compelling, and thought provoking.
Before reading this article, I had heard news stories like this from time to time. I reacted to them much like you probably have. "How terrible." "What is WRONG with those people?" "How is that POSSIBLE?" "Those people should be locked in a car to DIE just like their children."
One of my biggest goals in life is to remain, above all else, understanding of other people. To seek to understand, and to be compassionate. This article helped me to realize that I was rushing to judgment without seeking to first be compassionate, to understand. It's hard to understand a tragedy like this; it is still difficult for me to think about this scenario and really believe I COULD forget my baby in the backseat of my car. It is difficult for me to understand how someone DOES that. You forget cell phones, wallets, sunglasses; you don't forget BABIES.
Yet the parts of the article where memory experts talk about the science behind remembering; the parts where they earnestly express that it's not even a matter of FORGETTING their children, really, but of FALSE memory - these people really and truly believe they have dropped their children off with the sitter, or at day care - send chills down my spine. Haven't you ever been utterly convinced that you did something, or said something, that it turns out later you hadn't? Have you ever left the house utterly convinced you shut the garage door, only to come home from work and find it's been open all day? Have you ever been totally sure you put your house keys in your pocket, only to find yourself locked out of the house? These things happen to us all, albeit likely on a much smaller scale.
That's as close to understanding as I am able to get, really. It's nothing like leaving a baby in the backseat of the car, and while I may not be the most religious woman on the planet, I pray to god I never, EVER get to a point in my life where I NEED to understand this. There but for the grace of god go I. I am still convinced that 'this could NEVER happen to me', if only because the alternative is too terrible to contemplate.
But what I took from this article, most of all, is that there are still times in life when I am lacking in compassion. And I believe that one of the failings of my beloved Internet is that it too often allows us to lurk in anonymity, to encounter bits of news and stories from all over the world, and to sit behind our computer screens in judgment of others. Without ever knowing the true stories. Without ever having to face these people that are in terrible pain. The internet is a great dehumanizer, and I don't believe we are the better for it in that respect.
It is rare that a story comes along that gives a true human face to tragedy. It is a rare article that serves to remind us of the necessity for compassion for our fellow human beings. These people have suffered huge, terrible losses. These people will punish themselves for the rest of their lives. Nothing any of us can do or say could possibly make things any worse; the punishments they will inflict on themselves will be more terrible than most of us can imagine.
But our attitudes, our thoughts, and our mercies MIGHT be able to make things a little better. I believe we would all be better off if we took the time to remember that the people behind these kinds of stories are people just like us, with real lives and real traumas; that but for a few slightly differing sets of circumstances, WE could be the people in these stories one day. I believe we would all be better off if we just took the time to show a little compassion, even if we cannot truly understand.
Reading this article changed me, and I believe it was for the better. On this Mother's Day, I am sending out a simple hug to all of the parents that are enduring the unendurable.