Being Related to the Hated
by Carrah Quigley
My guru died earlier this year. I was there for his final day, holding his hand, kissing his face and whispering into his ear how much I loved him and appreciated knowing him in this life. I told him he was the greatest father a girl could ever ask for. Even though I lived in trepidation of my father dying for the greater part of my life, I felt no fear as I stared into his eyes and inhaled his last exhale. I could only feel the fullness of all he had given me. His triumph of a life welled up in my body and soul as the warmth drained from his. To this day, six months later, I have yet to feel loss. In every moment, since my father’s last, I feel filled with his lessons on how to live and how to love life.
My father was my greatest teacher. He was a Professor of Psychology for 36 years, a consultant for architects around the world and a committed social justice crusader and activist. He was an uber-intellectual who filled the house with books, classical music and big declarative axioms on how to live an extraordinary life as an ordinary person. He surrounded the house with art, people from all over the world and a never ending curiosity about every subject you can imagine. He could kiss and hug hard enough to break a rib if you weren’t careful. He had a joy at seeing your face that could wipe out any bad mood. He was never sad, never spiteful and never ever tired of living life to the fullest.
He was also a murderer.
The man described above is how I knew my father, until, when I was at the age of 19, he told me his story. My loving, exciting and compassionate father did something unimaginable when he was 22. He killed a fellow classmate while they slept in their dorm room in 1955. My father had a psychotic break leaving him temporarily insane. During those few hours he planned a mass murder of his entire dormitory. He wanted to “Wipe everyone out,” as he explained it. After he knew he killed his classmate, he felt a hand clasp around his heart and squeeze it. He knew he could do no more. At that moment, his faculties returned and he realized he had been loved far more than he ever felt he was hated. He realized love was the most prominent thing in his life. He turned himself in at the police station in the local town that night. He was sentenced to life, deemed to be incurably insane, and sent to live in a mental institution for the criminally insane for the rest of his life.
Clearly, he did not spend the rest of his life there. After just under 5 years, he was set free. The Chaplain, Warden and Psychiatrist at the prison felt he had overcome whatever it was that brought him in, and sent his case to a sanity commission for review. They determined he was temporarily insane during the time he committed his crime and was currently sane. He was set free.
There were many things contributing to my father’s release, his color, his education and his self realization during his incarceration. He spent many hours and days contemplating why he did what he did. As the days turned into years, he made peace
with himself, in spite of his crime. He developed a sense of self and self-worth and asked deep questions about how life could be meaningful inside prison. One day, some months after being locked up, he had a moment of revelation in which he realized he mattered. He was keeping score for fellow inmates during their game. He remembers putting the numbers up for each point and feeling a heightened sense of relevancy to his presence. He thought to himself, “If I wasn’t here to do this, who would be?” It seems simple enough, but that was the moment that changed his perspective on life. His awareness of his body, mind and his ability to help others was a transformative comprehension for him. He had never had that thought before. He mattered.
After that, he opened a school to teach other inmates math, history, science and patience. Admittedly, it was he who needed to learn the patience. He opened a print shop, in the basement, and began to print materials for many local organizations. He printed a newsletter for the prison, where fellow prisoners could submit original works. He created a life for himself in a place most of us would find helpless and inert. He found joy in mattering.
My father did a lot of writing in prison. Lots of poetry and essays and simple musings about his experience and about his journey into self reflection. I knew about a few of these papers and had glanced at few of his writings long ago. After he died, I went into his closet and found a mound of writings. I have yet to tackle it all. However, I know I what I will find. I will find a human being recognizing his inborn power. A person wrestling with his transgressions and the pain he caused. And a man who was able, despite crippling shame and regret, to put himself back together enough to lead a life of joy, fathering and exuberance.
Did you know that murderers are human beings? I didn’t. While I was fairly young when my father told me his story, I was acutely aware at a very young age that something in my culture wanted me to hate “bad people.” I could feel iron clad waves of cultural brainwashing in the form of duality, concepts of heaven and hell and a shunning of those who had done wrong. Forgiveness was there too, but it wasn’t a cultural concept, it was a personal one. On a grand scale we condemned people and hoped they would “rot in jail,” or even “rot in hell.” These were the cues I picked up on.
One of the first things I had to cope with after learning about my father was the bifurcated feeling I had from people in prison; the “evil and rotten” sections of our society that we locked up and hoped they never got out. I’m not sure if I was against the death penalty at the time I found out, but when I began to think of it the day after my father told me, I had a stark realization: If I did believe in the death penalty, then I also believed I didn't have a right to live. If my father had been put to death, I wouldn’t be alive. This thought, changed everything.
I began to feel a connection with people I normally wouldn’t be associated with. Prisoners, who seemed so foreign and distant to me, whom my culture denigrated and taught me to hate, were suddenly related to me. People who killed other people were in my living room, at the dinner table and I shared their DNA. I wasn’t so separate after all.
The greatest thing to happen to me after learning my father’s story was to cultivate a feeling of deep connection with all humanity. Not just the nice parts. Not just the loving, truth telling, freedom fighting parts. But the ugly, messed up, twisted and pain causing parts. Shaka Sengor says, “Hurt people cause hurt.” I was beginning to understand that beneath every act of hatred, there is a very hurt person who is blinded by their fear and anger. I learned, though it took me many years, it is possible to love the person despite hating their act so completely. However, nothing could prepare me for the lessons I had to learn from the undertow that awaited me in my culture.
When I learned about my father in 1993, this was well before the culture of School Shootings became imbedded in America. After Columbine in 1999, there was no doubt in my mind, my father, as a 22 year old, fit a demographic of a particular kind of angst in America. My father was a school shooter. I was the daughter of a school shooter.
My father would tell me his story every time I would ask to hear it. He described being bullied from the age of 4 all the way until college, when he cracked. He also described his struggles with mental illness and his wrestling with his masculine identity. He was the typical awkward nerd. His brilliance was undervalued and his inability to “fit in” made him a target. He couldn’t shake this dynamic his entire school career. By the time he reached college, he snapped. He didn’t care who he killed, just as long as they were in that dorm. Specifics aren’t thought of when one is insane. Furthermore, one of the symptoms of bullying is the perception that world is against you. Therefore, the world must be destroyed. My father’s victim was chosen at random. He happened to be behind the door my father opened first. My family began to see the school shooting dynamic repeated over and over again as we approached the late 1990’s. By the year 2000, it was impossible for me to go a week without thinking, “When was the next school shooting going to happen?” It was, and continues to be, a dreaded cycle filed with shame and guilt.
Relatives of shooters are a multiplying demographic in America. Survivors of school shootings are as well. We seem to stand at opposite ends of grief and yet I can tell you, for sure, relatives of shooters experience horror and grief too. My grief is not opposite of the victims. I have grief for all. When your loved one causes hurt, it hurts. When you learn that your love wasn’t enough to keep them from their darkness, when you can’t fathom that level of hate as being something related to you, it hurts in places you didn’t know existed. It’s deeper than anything you’ve been taught. And it flies in the face of every social norm you took for granted. Where did they go? How did we lose them? Why? Why? Why?
While I was born 20 years after my father’s crime, I still felt these things. My heart broke over and over again for my father and for all the shooters that have piled up in our national psyche. What they did was “the worst of what a human being is capable of,” my father used to say. It is almost impossible to reconcile the love you have for the person and the hate you have for their act. It is a journey no one wants to take.
For those of us related to those who commit these monstrous acts, we have no choice but to put one foot in front of the other and divide our hearts into pieces that occupy spaces for our loved ones, those our loved ones killed and the survivors who will have lifetime of trauma and pain both physical and emotional. In addition, I had to rectify the guilt I had for loving a father who did a bad thing. I had to continuously clean the stain of horror off my love to try to keep it pure. The love you have for a person who committed a heinous act, according to others, is a sickness. We are somehow carrying on the hate if we love the hated, but for those of us in this predicament, this kind of love is inescapably instinctual. After all, he is still my loving father. For me, I know I had to stop believing I had to be on one side or the other. I had to erase sides altogether and just stand with humanity. I love everyone. I weep for everyone. I want to solve this for everyone.
To those who will immediately draw the conclusion that I think murderers and shooters should all be released from prison and we should be nice to them, pease don’t misread compassion for justice or passivity. Public safety is my number one concern and those who need to stay in prison, should. Period. In addition, prisons should provide better means of rehabilitation and offer more humane methods of self-realization and tools for that journey. Our society gains nothing by throwing humans away. Our culture creates this phenomenon of school shootings and gross amounts of gun violence. We need to be more responsible for the environment we create and the tools we provide for potential perpetrators of violence to carry out their plots. We are all culpable.
Relatives of shooters and many others related to terrorists and those who cause harm have had to dig down deep into that spectrumless realm of compassion in ways most of us will never be challenged. And no, I’m not claiming victimhood here. I’m speaking about the journey. We’re in this too. We want it healed and we want to heal too. Take it from me, please, my love for my father in no way gives permission or approval of his crime. My loving him, does not diminish my feelings of deep sorrow for all the victims families and survivors. On my journey, I have had the difficult task of recognizing the humanity in all shooters and yet also being brought to my knees by the terror they cause. I know I am not alone.
My journey of healing began when I realized just how close I was to those I would have previously thrown away into the heap of the American prison system, or into the collective psyche of those who “deserve to live in hell.” The men all dressed in orange I pass by, working in fields, on the freeways. The people I watched in courtroom dramas while in my head thinking, “Yes, they earned their right to waste away in a cell the rest of their lives.” My healing was dependent on seeing those people as my brothers, as my father. In addition, my healing was made more permanent by the release of guilt I had in attaching myself to my father’s actions. I had nothing to do with what my father did. However, moving forward, I have everything to do with preventing these things from happening again. Furthermore, I will do everything I can to educate the world on the principles of oneness and solidarity with all. I will not cower from dialog with a terrorist. I will not walk away from a violent criminal who needs a loving ear. I will not fear the other side, for I know the other side has so much to do with me.
I know for many, my presence is not welcomed. My asking anyone to feel loving thoughts toward those who cause so much pain might seem like a level of insanity. I have learned, through a very difficult path, that hate is a true form of insanity. No matter how perfectly aimed you might think it is, hate will cause a demented world view. I hope you can understand that I wished, more than ever, everyday since 1993, that my father’s story was not true. I coveted the idea of a family without a stain. I hungered for an America without this kind of suffering. But here we are. These stories are true. These events really did happen. Some of our loved ones are gone and some of our loved ones caused that. These fractures create creators big enough to swallow an entire nation.
As the men from the funeral home took my father’s body from his bed and out the front door, I had the whisperings of these thoughts floating my head. I had a sense of his role in this ongoing nightmare in America. I also felt his solution. His cultivation of self love and self awareness. His never-ending passion to live fully despite having a shadow over his life. His very presence was evidence of all of the highest levels of enlightenment: forgiveness, peace, acceptance and redemption. His living was an act of defiance against the demons of our retributive culture. His existence, a loving, forceful quest that implored me, for compassion.