Howard Hollem (OWI, 1942). Left-click photo to enlarge.
Dante Electric Company, Bantam, Connecticut. Completely at home on any of the score or so of different machines in the shop, Mrs. Dante appears to be the busiest person there. Mr. Dante watches her as she works on a burring machine.
The New York Times is reporting that Laura Bush will, for the first time, discuss the tragic car accident she had in Midland, Texas when she was 17.
In her new book, “Spoken From the Heart,” Mrs. Bush describes in vivid detail the circumstances surrounding the crash, which has haunted her for most of her adult life and which became the subject of questions and speculation when it was revealed during her husband’s first presidential run [...]
On a November night in 1963, Mrs. Bush and a girlfriend were hurrying to a drive-in theater when Mrs. Bush, at the wheel of her father’s Chevy Impala, ran a stop sign on a small road and smashed into a car being driven by Mike Douglas, a star athlete and popular student at her school.
“In those awful seconds, the car door must have been flung open by the impact and my body rose in the air until gravity took over and I was pulled, hard and fast, back to earth,” she says. “The whole time,” she adds later, “I was praying that the person in the other car was alive. In my mind, I was calling ‘Please, God. Please, God. Please, God,’ over and over and over again.”
Mrs. Bush concedes that she and her friend were chatting when she ran the stop sign. But she also suggests a host of factors beyond her control played a role — the pitch-black road, an unusually dangerous intersection, the small size of the stop sign, and the car the victim was driving[...]
Mrs. Bush reveals that she was wracked by guilt for years after the crash, especially after not attending the funeral and for not reaching out to the parents of the dead teenager. Her parents did not want her to show up at the funeral, she states, and she ended up sleeping through it.
“I lost my faith that November, lost it for many, many years,” she says. “It was the first time that I had prayed to God for something, begged him for something, not the simple childhood wishing on a star but humbly begging for another human life. And it was as if no one heard. My begging, to my seventeen-year-old mind, had made no difference. The only answer was the sound of Mrs. Douglas’s sobs on the other side of that thin emergency room curtain.” [...]
“But while I give this advice in my letters, I didn’t do any of that,” she reveals. “Most of how I ultimately coped with the crash was by trying not to talk about it, not to think about it, to put it aside. Because there wasn’t anything I could do. Even if I tried.”
To feel responsible for the death of another human being is an awful burden. I've seen a few people in therapy with similar stories.Unlike most other experiences that may cause us to feel guilt, there is no way to make the victim whole; no reparative effort can ever be adequate. There is atonement, but death can never be undone.
The reaction to such an event varies from one person to the next. Some become self-sabotaging, inflicting a lifetime of punishment upon themselves. For others, the reaction is more positive and creative. I worked with a man who was transformed by his guilt, becoming a truly exemplary spouse, father, friend and citizen.
I don't judge a person for the direction that guilt takes them. Psychologists want to explain everything, but there is something mysterious, perhaps even unknowable, about the reasons one person opts for a lifetime of self-punishment while another atones through a lifetime of good works.
What I do know is that the decision to share one's story after such an experience can have healing power. The guilty often feel that they will lose options in life if others know what they have done. But the psychological cost of maintaining a guilty secret is often far worse than any cost that others would impose if they knew the truth.
Democrats are torn individually (a state I share). On one side, they favor helping those in need, which inclines them to look sympathetically on immigrants; plus they’re relatively open to a multicultural, multiracial society. I know that when I look at today’s Mexicans and Central Americans, they seem to me fundamentally the same as my grandparents seeking a better life in America.
On the other side, however, open immigration can’t coexist with a strong social safety net; if you’re going to assure health care and a decent income to everyone, you can’t make that offer global.
So Democrats have mixed feelings about immigration; in fact, it’s an agonizing issue.
Republicans, on the other hand, either love immigration or hate it. The business-friendly wing of the party likes inexpensive workers (and would really enjoy a huge guest-worker program that would both provide such workers and ensure that they can neither vote nor, in practice, unionize). But the cultural/nativist/tribal conservatives hate having these alien-looking, alien-sounding people on American soil.
Political scientist Brendan Nyhan notices that psychiatrist and political commentator Charles Krauthammer has both criticized and engaged in long-distance diagnosis of public figures. Nyhan wonders if there is a professional misconduct policy that might be relevant.
On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through the public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.
But I don't think Dr. Krauthammer has anything to worry about. See my comment.
I must admit that I do experience the urge to offer diagnostic impressions of public figures from time to time. But more often, I feel compelled to comment on faulty diagnoses offered by lay persons, as I did in this post and in this post. I also find myself mildly annoyed with amateur estimates of IQ. There's a lot of that going around.
The episode reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend a year ago, shortly after I published my piece on Rush Limbaugh in Newsweek. I won’t embarrass my friend by mentioning his name, but if I did, you’d certainly recognize it.
A passage from the novel by the contemporary Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1998), is illustrative of the intuitive wisdom shown by many present-day writers in regard to the effects of death anxiety on human adaptability. The central character in the book, a man of twenty or so named Toru Okada and nicknamed “Mr. Wind-Up Bird,” has found a dry well in a closed-off back alley behind his house in Tokyo. He buys a ladder, descends into the well, and spends the night there. When he awakens, in the morning, the ladder is gone. After a while, a teenager named May Kasahara, whom he has befriended, shows up; evidently she is the one who removed the ladder. She checks to see if Toru is alive and after he speaks up she teasingly reassures him that it will take a while before he starves to death.
Beyond Yahweh and Jesus -- Bringing Death's Wisdom to Faith,
Spirituality and Psychoanalysis:
God’s ambivalence and uncertainty as to whether humans should possess divine wisdom is seen first in his arranging for humans to possess this wisdom [the first creation story] but then taking it away in the second creation. To emphasize the uncertainties of his position, he then forbids Adam from trying to acquire this kind of knowledge, but places the tree bearing it in the center of the garden. Talk about divine teases—and mixed messages. (Robert Langs)