Alms for the Pure

10/13/2006

Slumber, my darling, the birds are at rest,
The wandering dews by the flow’rs are caressed,
Slumber, my darling, I’ll wrap thee up warm,
And pray that the angels will shield thee from harm

Slumber, my darling, Alison Krauss, 2000

They razed that schoolhouse in Nickel Mines where those little Amish girls were murdered. It was done at night, to shroud the spectacle of it I guess. Come daybreak, the site was picked clean, nothing left but the dirt beneath.

They brought in heavy equipment for the task. A big old Cat track hoe banged its bucket on the rafters till the place knelt, then crumbled flat in submission. As if hitting it hard enough would somehow square what happened in there.

I cannot comprehend what possessed Charles Carl Roberts IV to walk into that school and shoot ten little girls eleven days ago. And I am grateful that I can’t. Because whatever it was, it was pure, stinking evil.

Yet you see the best in America in times like these. Prayers, condolences and cash donations flowed from every point of the nation. Perfect strangers, wanting to help perfect strangers.

I know next to nothing about the Amish. But what I learned this week left me in awe of them. As they reluctantly accepted the money folks sent to help, the Amish community at Nickel Mines insisted a fund also be created for the killer’s children. Even through their unfathomable anguish, they saw something I had not.

They knew that when Charles Carl Roberts IV finished firing, he had not only taken five lives and his own, but in doing so made his three children notorious for the rest of their days. So the Amish put his kids’ needs on par with their own.

Where I grew up a woman named Mother Jones was a pretty big deal. She once said that we should “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” I always took that as a call to arms, to fight back, to take retribution.

But now when I think about it, I probably had that wrong. It’s not fight for the living. It’s fight for the living. It’s something those Amish remembered in their most grievous hour when they reached out with alms for their children’s killer’s children. And if we all can remember that gesture, we’ll be a little bit better.

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