The worst kind of evening news shattered my life when I received
word that my brother and his wife had been murdered by an intruder into
their Montana home who shot them dead as they slept in their bed. Most of
my friends, although horrified, offered tremendous support and compassion
to me in my time of crisis. Nobody suggested it was I who was actually
responsible for the murders.
Nobody, that is, except my New Age friend, Alana. "Wow, you have
some heavy karma," was Alanaís response, likely referring to the fresh
memory of my other brotherís suicide two years earlier. With edgy
enthusiasm she added, "but you can change your karma ." Oh my karma, was
it? That explained everything.
Such an easy answer to the mysteries of life, death and double
homicide. Alana, you see, is an East-turner, a "Buddhist," who believes
all misfortune is a result of wrongdoings committed in previous
incarnations of the soul and pain is our teacher, our karma, our lesson to
be learned. We cause our troubles.
As payment and punishment for unremembered sins from a veiled past, other peopleís tragedies make perfect sense and one need never ask the big WHY. The path to happiness is approached by chanting for hours on end. So now, all I have to do to
avoid more dead brothers is start chanting Buddhist prayers. Who knows
what further horrors my sins will bring about if I fail to change my
Alanaís borrowed Eastern beliefs are embraced by many of todayís
New Age Children of the Light. They share an insistence that each
individual is responsible--by choice or by karma--for everything that
happens to him.
"If a man steps into an elevator and meets a
scissor-wielding psychopath who stabs him in the eye, youíre telling me he
chose it?" I once asked incredulously. "Yes," said Jack, the holistic
healer. Car accidents are outward manifestations of victimsí anger? The
unhealthy energy of sexually imbalanced women draws rapists out of dark
Even updated with pseudo-sophisticated psychobabble, those opinions sound to me even less enlightened than the Biblical Old Testament
view that poverty and suffering were Godís retribution for sin.
My favorite New Age enlightened explanation came a few years back
from a guru giving a lesson on the Gulf War. "The war against Saddam
Hussein proved the whole world is moving to a higher spiritual plane," he
said in a New Age echo of George Bushís public relations campaign as he
promoted the spiritual and historical significance of multinational,
combined positive energies transcending the forces of darkness.
"What about the masses of people who died?" I interjected. "Those people chose
to die because there was something they had to learn from it." In one
line he wiped away all reason to feel sad about 100,000 Iraqi deaths and
the searing agony of their mourners. Quick and easy. He never felt a
A landscape designer who spends a quarter of his earnings on
male-bonding, drumming workshops so he can grow told me that the world is
rapidly reaching a new era of enlightenment. Letís hope so. But, I said, I
didnít think the people of Bosnia would agree. "They are not on as high a
spiritual level as we are," he responded. "Their suffering does not
matter. Itís what they learn from it that counts."
Cathy, the formerly spiritually superior New Jersey homemaker, was
sure that within her bubble of positive energy and universal cosmic
awareness no harm could ever come to her family. She knew every answer
until her child nearly died in a boating accident and her faith came
crashing to an end. It seems to me that weíre on thin ice when we think we
can control our lives through "higher" spiritual practices or tie our
faith to the existence of justifiable explanations for human suffering and random tragedy.
Eleven months after the murders, Joseph Shadow Clark, 19, was
sentenced to life imprisonment in a quick and quiet plea bargain agreement
after confessing to two counts of deliberate homicide in the deaths of my
brother and sister-in-law, John and Nancy Bosco, in Shadowís home town of
The son of right wing fundamentalist Christian parents, Shadow had
been a scholarship student at a Quaker college in Oregon at the time of
his arrest and had attended a Christian school while being raised in the
very house that was to become John and Nancyís funeral chamber. Had my
loved ones violated the young Christianís territorial supremacy by
purchasing the old homestead on Kelly Drive? Was he symbolically slaying
his own parents who had once slept in the same, now-bloodied bedroom?
The killer said he didnít know why he did it. The act was just
"senseless." Weíd be happy to know, however, his minister told us, that
Shadow Clark had not lost his Christian faith. An eery new layer of
emptiness closed in around my family.
My friend Alana was a little unnerved by the news of the killerís
plea bargain and disturbed by the reminder of violence in general. "I
suppose terrible things do happen in the world," she remarked. "Iím so
focused on my own life that I just donít notice it." Alana the
The history of hypocrisy in all religions--Eastern, Western,
ancient and new--is always staggering, but lately Iíve grown especially
weary of New Age devotees who use "higher spirituality" as an excuse to
bear no burden of compassion, to distance themselves from other peopleís
pain, to believe--consciously or unconsciously--that their superior faith
will protect them from harm and to justify ignoring the inhumanity that
causes so much suffering on this earth.
I have lost patience with any system of beliefs that provides
definitive answers. Anyone who really knows why bad things happen to good
people has nothing illuminating to say to me.
If my magnificent brother, who master-crafted fine furniture and
dreamed of making violins, and his beautiful wife, who wrote poetry and
canned raspberry jam, were killed for transgressions in previous
lifetimes, I donít want to hear it. Maybe they chose their cruel destiny
and I agreed to participate in the grand cosmic plan, but frankly, the
idea sounds too man-made. It sounds too small to come from God. Perhaps
itís a futile human attempt to grasp what we canít.
If I choose to turn this tragedy into a catalyst for my own growth
in wisdom and maturity, all the better for me. But donít tell me, you who
remain precariously uninitiated, that it is my obligation to do so.
I donít know why my brother and sister-in-law were murdered,
except maybe a sick kid got a quick thrill. The challenge for my family is
to accept a world without answers and trust that the darkness won't
extinguish the light.