Peter Stefan, the owner of the Worcester, Massachusetts mortuary handling funeral arrangements for the family of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the men responsibility for the bombing at the Boston Marathon, has been challenged by local officials and cannot find a cemetery willing to inter the body.
People who do terrible things die. As he told the New York Times, “I’ve had murderers here, people that murder their kids, people that murder their parents. “A lot of hullabaloo that we’ve had here.” Their bodies must be claimed, arrangements must be made, and then the body or cremains must have a final disposition. What should be a somewhat straight-forward process, can quickly become complicated when the person who died has done some wicked things.
Sometimes as person doesn’t have to do wicked things. In the early years of AIDS, only one mortuary in the county I then lived, would even handle the body for mandatory cremation of someone who died from AIDS-related complications. Even the county hospital which could not turn away patients from treatment, refused to allow autopsies performed on someone with AIDS. Lack of correct information and fear brought out the ugliness and judgement of people which was perpetuated by others who also did not had correct information. It was an inconvenience for the two of us handling all of the HIV and AIDS cases in the county, and a nightmare for the individuals and families already isolated by the stigma of the times.
Would you have ever thought our forebears would resort to cannibalism? Researchers discovered the cannibalized remains of a young settler from the seventeenth century Jamestown colony. The pervading thought was that the Native Americans were savages, but it turned out that our civilized European brethren were actually the ones who resorted to cannibalism.
Many of us debated this very issue in our California high school situational ethics class using the more recent Donner Party. It was unsettling to think that at least one of us was possibly related to one of the 87 pioneers who trekked from Illinois to California in 1846-1847. I’m imagining the next holiday dinner conversation of those who know they are direct descendants of the early Jamestown colonists!
The point is now we all seem to have less than six degrees of separation between ourselves and someone we might consider a societal monster. Most of us think we don’t know anyone like that, but we need to pause before we make those kinds of judgements. My oldest son, as a yearbook rep, worked closely with all of the yearbook students of schools whose yearbooks accounts he oversaw. The award-winning editor of one of his yearbooks was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison for a bomb plot on a college campus. A business colleague’s brother committed a double murder-suicide. A friend’s brother was a serial killer.
These examples are extreme to show that the possibility of knowing or knowing of someone who is involved in something extreme isn’t as far-fetched as we think. On the other hand, I guarantee you know someone, or of someone, who carries a shameful secret they don’t want anyone else to know. It may not be notorious, but, as we know from Jamestown, you never know when or for what reasons you might cross the line from what is considered civilized to savage.
Underneath the wickedness is a person who will die. A family or friend or someone is going to have to make final arrangements of the body. At that point, there isn’t a terrorist or a murderer or sex offender or an abuser, but a body. No matter what we may think of that person who did all of that horribleness, they still are loved – at least by God – and, in death deserve a place to rest this side of eternity.
But the wicked are like the tossing sea that cannot keep still; its waters toss up mire and mud. There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked (Isaiah 57:20-21).