"You're off the edge of the map, mate. Here there be monsters." Captain Barbossa to Captain Jack, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Twice last week I woke in the middle of the night from horrifying nightmares and was unable to go back to sleep. Serial killers and murderers have been haunting me. It's not surprising. You can't turn on the TV and not hear something about the latest national obsession--John Mark Karr, the self-confessed murderer of JonBenet Ramsey. Even Entertainment Tonight, which I flipped on to get some news about the Tom Cruise-Paramount Pictures split, is reporting on the case. Entertainment Tonight? Really? And locally we've had our own tragedy unfolding. Over two weeks ago two female co-workers were seen leaving work with an unidentified man. They disappeared into thin air. That is until last week when one of their bodies was found in a ditch just west of town--decapitated. It's been horrifying. You can do everything you think possible to ensure the safety of yourself, your children, and the ones you love and then in one life altering moment you can realize you really just can't ever do enough.
It's terrifying to realize that the monsters we need to fear the most aren't hiding under the bed or lurking in the closest. No, they're living right down the block, dressed in a coat and tie. They don't have claws and sharp teeth. They're ordinary humans with flesh and blood. They look just like you and me. And of course there is all kinds of theorizing about how or why these humans became the killers they are. Were they born that way? Did something terrible happen in their youth or childhood that wounded them in un-heal-able ways? The age-old argument of nature versus nurture. How do we get the Adolph Hitlers, the Ted Bundys, the Osama Bin Ladens of this world? Where do they come from? And why do they look so normal? We hope against hope that there is a reason, a reason for the evil and cruelty they lash upon the world? Why? Because if there's a reason then we have something to work with, a way we might intervene and control, a way we might predict the next one and therefor stop the terror. If it was an abusive father, a cruel mother, a history of victimization, then there is an explanation for their behavior. If not, if there is no rhyme or reason, then we have to live with and face the possibility that maybe evil does exist and we can't do anything about it. Try as we might there is only so much we can do to protect ourselves and to keep our world safe.
Maybe monster is a little cruel and lacks compassion. But that's the way it often feels. And it's so much easier to label them monsters than to call them what they truly are--humans. It's difficult to accept that they are humans. It's easier if we can set them apart and make them different by calling them something we fear--monsters. Monsters, even the ones in the movies, always seem to prey on those who are weaker and have less power. Certainly their appearance is frightening but what is far more frightening is their hunger for power and control and destruction. Maybe this hunger comes from pain, from oppression and misunderstanding, from emotional and psychic wounds that are so deep there's nothing that can ease them. Maybe it's just their nature. I don't know. I won't try to speculate. There are too many un-answerable questions. I just know how difficult, how almost impossible, it is to wrap my brain around the fact that the scariest monsters alive are those who look just like me. The scariest monsters alive are those we call humans. We walk past them everyday without knowing it. We don't think twice about it. They wear believable disguises so we trust them, ignore them, think they're harmless. And there doesn't seem any way to know who they are until it's too late. We live with them in our midst, around our children, in our churches, in our school systems, holding public offices. It's terrifying to think about it. And so we can't. I can't. At least not all the time. I have the occasional nightmare, the moment of panic in the dark. I fear for my child on an almost daily basis. But I live with the fear while not allowing it to paralyze my life, always keeping one eye open while still daring to trust in the goodness of those sharing this planet with me. There fact that the good outweighs the evil is what gives us hope and keeps us going. I want to be knowledgeable, educated. But I also want to turn the TV off and not allow the monsters to have any more power than the power they've already been given.