— Calvin Luther Martin, PhD
Richard Matt. Dead. Three slugs to the head. High velocity, trans-cranial lead therapy. (A pity it never occurred to the man to perform this procedure on himself. Like, maybe at age 15, if newspaper accounts of his youth are accurate. The man is reported to have had a high IQ. Though evidently not smart enough to look in the mirror and whisper, “I am a monster!”)
David Sweat. Captured. Two to the torso. As worthless as his pal, Matt.
Two individuals who, in the course of their lives, transformed themselves into nothing more than a mass of protoplasm shaped like human beings. It required 3 slugs to Matt and 2 to Sweat to put an end to their illusions — in Matt’s case, for eternity.
Gov. Cuomo says the nightmare is over. Yet, at a deep level, it isn’t.
We have been violated. The spirit of the place has been twisted into something sinister.
Nearly every adult male I know in the North Country is an avid hunter. It’s not the “shooting” of deer that matters as much as being in the presence of wildness. I know men who rise well before dawn in hunting season, drive their pick-up out of town, and hike deep into the woods to a deer stand. They are in paradise. They speak of it rapturously. The place is sacred to them. The deer are sacred.
I love these places. My wife and I jog the woodland trails. We ski them in winter. We canoe the lakes and ponds and marshes. It is spiritual and healing.
Likewise the towns hereabout are healing places where the “social contract” of being respectful, courteous, and civil is performed daily — and enforced by the same officers who hunted these men.
Then, something happened. Two madmen unleashed their mayhem into our midst. They became invisible. They became pervasive. By some weird alchemy, they were everywhere. Like deadly smoke, they crept silently into our homes and personal space. Even our sleep.
A friend described how he took down his shotgun, loaded both barrels, snapped them shut and ran his eye along the cold blue steel, silently contemplating the necessity of slaying a human being. (No one should ever have to think this.)
This is trauma. We are all victims of it, and now must deal with its aftershocks — PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
No, don’t scoff and say, “Hell no! I’m perfectly fine! F@%k those two bums!” Would this were true. Unfortunately, trauma doesn’t work this way. Trauma lives in a different part of the mind, out of reach of bluster and bravado and assertions of “I’m tough! I can take it!”
We need healing. The woods fields marshes streams ponds and lakes — need healing. They need to become sacred, once more, as they were 3 weeks ago. A place where the spirit of the deer and gift of the deer prevail. Where man or woman or child can fish in pond or stream and savor, once more, the peace of wild things.
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
— Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things”
Surely there is nothing more corrosive than fear. Matt & Sweat trafficked in it. Fear and narcissism consumed them, oozing from every orifice in their bodies. Even their eyes shot glances of fear.
Even so, there is another story, another narrative that played out. Even as they violated us, we were protected by an army of police. Telling us,
“We will stand as a human shield against madmen and fear-mongering. Yes, they want to terrify us, all of us. We, the State Police, Dept of Corrections, Sheriff, Border Patrol, Federal Marshalls, FBI, Forest Rangers, Malone Village Police — we pledge to put our bodies between you and these two instruments of terror. If it comes to killing, we will make certain it involves us, not you.”
We call them “police.” “Law enforcement.” They’re the wrong names. They are care-givers. They do what’s called in clinical medicine an “intervention.” They “intervene” on behalf of you and me, to remove madness from our midst, to restore sanity and civility and serenity and joy — the joy of all this we call “home.”
Twelve hundred men and women. They slogged through tangled woods and bogs, through fields, night and day, often in a deluge and cold — for me. While I slept in peace. While I ate well. While I went on with my life. Mosquitos. Blackflies. Deer flies. Ticks. Poison ivy. Soaking wet. Hungry. (How does one relieve oneself out there?) Sleep deprived. Scared. Hair-trigger alert. Exhausted.
The gift they bestowed on me goes a long way toward healing my trauma — that they cared. No, not a “job.” I don’t want to hear, “It’s their job!” This is the face of real humanity, of compassion, my friend.
I am expunging Matt and Sweat from my mind. Breathing them out of me. (It will take awhile.) I am breathing in 1200 police and corrections officers, some from far away, who came with these words, “We will remove this disease. We will find it, isolate it, and remove it, and restore your community to tranquility and joy.”
How does one thank 1200 people for such a gift?