Memorial Day

My family is not a military family. We have several members who have served in various armed forces in various capacities, but no one close to me has either been a soldier in war (Dad was in undeclared war as a medical officer) or a lifetime military person. So for me Memorial Day is more a concept of national pride and thanks, than a day spent mourning my relatives.

But today I was reminded that I have had plenty of people whom I love who were lost in other ways. One of them was very violent. So it seems almost ironic that BP (my friend, not the company) called me on Memorial Day to tell me that she was watching a painful reenactment of the murder of our friend, Yngve Raustein. The program, called Unequal Justice, was designed as a push for clemency for one of the three teens involved in his murder. (The other two have served their time and been released). It brought me back to a difficult time in my life. I felt so horribly guilty that our American society is so violent and the victim was such a nice guy. Apparently I am not the only one, a student wrote a letter to the MIT paper with similar views.  I felt so sad that someone had been killed so unreasonably.

In 1994 my Mom met Yngve's Mom. It was a very sad moment. The two Moms, both of whom had lost their firstborn sons just looked at each other, and started crying before they even said a word to one another. The bond of losing a child was awful. My Mom knew Yngve - he'd spent Thanksgiving at our house one year. Watching the perpetrator's Mother crying because her son is in jail, I wanted to say, "Yngve's mother is also affected and will be for the rest of her life. Even if she did sign the petition (which shows what a good person she is), she won't get her son back because your son hit him for no reason whatsoever. What kind of person hits someone so hard that he breaks his hand for laughing? Even if Yngve had been laughing at your son (and he wasn't!), it is no reason for your son to hit him unprovoked? Yes it is unjust that your son didn't actually kill Yngve, but he struck him down unprovoked in an act that ultimately ended his life a few minutes later."

As a mother I see both Moms living the worst case scenario. One is the mother of a victim. The other the mother of a perpetrator! I certainly don't want to be either mother!

For years I would not watch any violence on TV or in movies. I wouldn't read violent books. I didn't want to watch newscasts of violent acts. And while I want to forgive the people who did this to my friend, I can't. I want to find empathy in my heart for the mother of this son who will live the rest of his life in jail, but it's hard for me. Maybe it's the violence of the US society compared to Norway - that they can sign a petition saying OK to let him out, and I can't that has hardened me.

Even this blog is doing what annoyed me most about the tv show. It is focusing too much on the perpetrator, too little on the victim. Would Yngve had married? Would he have ended up working for NASA? Maybe he would be in the private sector working on the newest greatest breakthrough? The European Space Agency? Would he have had kids? Would they have had his quirky sense of humor? I remember our lighthearted conversations. I gave the letter to his mom where he wrote "please" after every sentence (hearing that we Americans say please all the time, it was in jest). 

Even if I want to remember the good times, I am forced to think of the bad times as well. In the end the most important thing is to remember. Losing someone in war isn't so different from losing someone in a violent crime - except in war a soldier knows he is putting him or herself in danger as an act of patriotism. In this case, Yngve was just walking down the street laughing with his friend.


Anonymous said…
I am so sorry. I share your regret that our society is so violent. I wish these stories were unusual.

A dear friend-teacher-mentor once told me that our perspective is limited to the individual walking the belly of the mother (earth). Only the Great Spirit has a view of the infinite expanse of the universe. Each life has a path and a purpose for which we may never know or understand.

The boy who struck your friend and the eventually killers have a path/lesson/experience (one we do not envy but can still learn from). Your friend's life ended tragically, to be sure, but as you point out, we can only cherish the gifts of his presence in our life and not the "what ifs" b/c they may not have been part of his path...

In his memory, given his association with random acts of violence, perhaps we can consider what compels individuals in our "prosperous & advanced" society to act out so brutally and without moral regard. How is our society brutal? How are children raised? How are their spirits nurtured? How are our families spending time? What do we value over all? Where do we put our attention, hearts and minds? What have these young men who acted so violently with such devastating impact realized about their actions? Do they know what drove them? If not, that is something to think about, too. Do we glorify violence and impulsive behavior? Do we accept violence against foreigners? And on and on...


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