At the Heart of Darkness

A skull found in one place in New York's Nassau County, what appear to be "upper and lower extremities" discovered along Ocean Parkway in another, said the police.

In nearby Suffolk County, searchers have found eight bodies in burlap bags -- they seemed to be prostitutes in their 20s, some of whom had been missing since 2007.

On Long Island, the authorities are hunting a serial killer. To expand on that idea a little, police are looking for a person who would kill young women, tear them apart, living or dead, and toss parts of their bodies like garbage near a busy highway.

To be frank, it was days before I could read the series of articles on this case, though I would see them on the home page of the New York Times and nerve myself to open them. Having grown up in Brooklyn, I'm no stranger to the Island. But I knew beaches and brownstones, not dark corners where vulnerable young women traded their bodies for sex -- and ended up giving up much more.

Here in the Philadelphia area, a killer has also recently targeted sex workers.

As one of the New York Times stories points out, these women are not missed a lot in life, and often even less so in death.

When I read these stories, I (probably like many of you) am filled with a mixture of anger, terror and revulsion. But the primary emotion I feel is grief, as I mourn the death of young women I never knew and the possibilities of the lives they will never now get to live.

I have no words to describe the acts of the killers.

But what does it say about human nature that Megan, Melissa, Amber Lynn and Maureen's disappearance wasn't reported until their bodies were discovered? Why don't we care more about helping women and men who struggle with addiction or broken family relationships -- barely adults who themselves may have been children of abuse?

Does their death have no meaning? Do we learn nothing, even about our own lack of concern for the most vulnerable?

That is what haunts me late at night as I turn sleeplessly. I wonder what their parents are feeling now. I pray that somebody who knew them recalls them and weeps.

Next week is, for Christians, a (hopefully) vicarious entrance into the heart of darkness.
Our escort is a preacher and healer offensive enough to Roman authorities that they strung him up on a cross in the same brutal way that they hung so many others deemed criminals or enemies of the empire.

Few will dispute that crucifixion is a barbaric and callous way to kill somebody, a violence in striking contrast to Christ's message of love and forgiveness.

That was then. This is now, we rationalize, speeding past Palm Sunday and Good Friday to Easter services, and dinner, and the warmth of our families.

We cover the darkness, as a Band-Aid hides a festering wound. Or we anesthetize it with booze or power or forgetfulness.

Most of us have that luxury.

But for those severed children, there is now nothing but the cross and the hope that Jesus has taken them into his arms, broken for us.

Perhaps as individuals and as a society, we may ponder repenting and asking for forgiveness, whether it be from God or from one another. Turning our back on our offenses doesn't have to be a sacred ritual.

Forgiveness for judging, as many of us are prone to judge sex workers.

Forgiveness for the societal callousness that tolerates such suffering.

Forgiveness for not remembering and not mourning.

As we begin our religious observances this week, I hope that we will keep in mind the Maureens and Megans among us: dear to God even in death, but so deserving of a life of love and beauty here on earth.

We dare not, cannot forget you, lest we forget ourselves.