January 19, 2011


Several years ago, when I lived for a time in England, I read a book called “The Singer Not the Song” written by Audrey Erkin-Lindop. A film was later made of it which seems to be more famous than the book for there is little written about the author or her novel. Still, I remain impressed by it as it was well written and posed a moral dilemma that is hard to resolve. The story is about a priest who arrives at a small village in Mexico to attend to the faithful, but when he holds mass, no one comes. Eventually, he learns the town is controlled by an evil bandit who forbids anyone to worship. Despite his new knowledge, the priest continues to hold mass so the bandit responds by murdering residents in alphabetical order. And so the first of many dilemmas begins as the priest weights his duty. Is it to his church or to his parish? I won’t reveal how it ends. I don’t want to spoil the book for any potential reader. But the writer’s interest in the way bad events can set good values in conflict was of concern to me.

I thought of the book again after the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others in Arizona earlier this month. I can’t and won’t try to compete with the eloquence of others in expressing the sadness that overcomes me when I think of what happened and the many lives affected. But I do want to reflect on the aftermath as a shocked nation tries to make sense of what has happened. I think we the people have tried to learn from the terrible experience. But a lot of finger pointing and blaming took place at the beginning. The so-called left accused the so-called right of forgetting political civility and setting the stage for the tragedy with fiery political rhetoric. Those accused defended themselves as exercising their right to free speech. Two values found they were in opposition to one another because of an unspeakable event. Perhaps both sides will learn from the experience. Attacking others for their lack of civility is a lack of civility. And those who take free speech to excess can’t expect to be admired because they wrap themselves in the flag of patriotism. 

As a writer, I respect the power of words. They should never be underestimated.  I respect, too, the right of Sarah Palin to speak her mind on any subject; but as to her depiction of Jared Loughner, the shooter in January’s tragedy, as someone who is evil like Lindop’s bandit, I must object. Despite the horror of what he did, Jared Loughner is not evil. Jared Loughner is mentally ill. As a people, I hope we have the wisdom and grace to remember the distinction.