A Young Man Quietly Shed a Tear.

Dennis Rader, calmly and politely, clinically, apparently dispassionately described 10 murders in grisly detail while pleading guilty as the B.T.K. (blind, torture, kill) of Wichita. Family members listened as he told what perverse acts he committed in their loved one’s last moments. It is chilling and all the more distressing given his active involvement in a local church, which received more unwanted attention when in court he talked about taking 53-year-old Maureen Hedge’s “nude body in the trunk of his car to Christ Lutheran Church – where later he was elected president of the council – and took some pictures of her in ‘bondage positions’ with a Polaroid.”

One provocative paragraph, omitted in the online version of Jodi Wilgoren’s coverage of the courtroom scene, caught my eye.

“Most people in the courtroom reacted with no discernable emotion to Mr. Rader’s dispassionate accounting, though one young man quietly shed a tear before slipping out of the room without identifying himself to reporters.”

Who was that young man? Why was he in the courtroom? Was he connected in some way with the killer? How did Rader’s descriptions touch this young man in a way that moved him to tears?

These questions haunted me even more when I read of John Irving’s new novel “Until I Find You,” described as “an attempt to resolve the great themes of his life and work.” The absence of Irving’s father has long been an issue in his work and to it he adds the revelation that as an 11-year-old he was sexually abused by an older woman.

Irving (photo above) says of the novel “I have not written a novel that disturbed me so much,” and as a reader of Irving’s disturbing novels, that is saying a lot. While writing in the first person the content of this novel disturbed Irving to the point he had to be medicated, found it hindered his work, went off medication, and was then so distressed with his final product, he rewrote it in third person after it had already been approved by the publisher.

Who was the young man who quietly left the courtroom, the one who shed a tear?

As a broadcaster who listened to people’s stories for 15 years, I have come to understand the commonality of hidden stories, the degree to which we see the tip of the iceberg above the surface, how frequently the real story is bigger and unseen–how the unseen is sometimes dangerous for other crafts in the vicinity.

Obviously Rader represents unseen danger in the extreme in a deeply psychotic way. His friends listened to his testimony in disbelief. “Roger Farthing, who went to school with Mr. Rader, said watching the hideous testimony was like seeing a “second person” inhabit his old friend’s body. “I was watching Dennis Rader tell someone else’s story today.” He was described by one courtroom witness as “a rotting corpse of a wretch of a human hiding under a human veneer.”

Yet reading John Irving’s personal saga you realize there is a second story in each of us and knowing his life and work and now seeing the veneer stripped back a bit, you see hints of explanations for his bent-ness.

It seems that human health comes when our “second, unseen story” makes peace with our public story. We cannot avoid the painful experiences and disappointments that give birth to our unseen story, but most of us can survive and find healing. Doesn’t that healing come when someone takes the time to strip back the veneer, peer into the dark sadness and love us anyway?

Were it not for Jesus it would seem glib to interject Gods love at this point. Love is seldom delivered through a disembodied spirit–it comes to us in human flesh–a friend, family member a spouse, the loves of your life. In Jesus, God became flesh and dwelt among us. “God is love” took on real, tangible meaning because you could see it when he touched the unclean leper, invited to dinner the outcast tax collector hiding in a tree, healed the blind man.

Who is the young man who quietly shed a tear before slipping out of the room without identifying himself? It is time to reveal our unseen self. I am the young man. You are the young man. It is time to shed our tear. It is time to lift the veneer. It is time to love and be loved.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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