Yesterday, I was thinking about my post on Laura Bush's involvement in an auto accident that claimed the life of one of her friends. In that post, I wrote:
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.
As I thought about this, Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini came to mind. I hadn't thought about him in many years and I wondered what became of him. Mancini was a lightweight boxing champion who, in 1982, defeated South Korean challenger Duk Koo Kim. What is notable about the fight is that Kim died of a cerebral hemorrhage caused by blows sustained in the fight. Mancini, who was by all accounts a very decent young man, was horribly shaken by the death of Kim.
I Googled Mancini and found a youtube clip of the fight, including what was probably the fatal blow at 6:25. Watching it, knowing what was going to happen to Kim, was very disturbing. Tragically, both Kim's mother and the ref committed suicide in the months after the fight. It's impossible to dismiss the role of guilt in these suicides. Kim was fighting to lift his family from dire poverty and the ref had been criticized for failing to stop the fight sooner. Perhaps these suicides were self-inflicted death sentences.
But, again, I wondered about Mancini. What happened to him in the years after the tragedy? What did he do with his life and how had he managed the guilt? This is from an article written 25 years after the fight:
Mancini is 46 now and lives in Santa Monica, Calif., where he acts in and produces movies and owns a cigar company. He remains haunted by what happened on that sunny Saturday afternoon 25 years ago. He does not run from it, because there is no escape. He can't accept it, either. He has to live with it as best he can. "It's been hard," Mancini says. "There have been a lot of prayers, a lot of thoughts. But you never get over it. You never understand. You move on. You look to the future. But that is a part of my life, unfortunately. "I wish it wasn't. But it was."
Last night, I was having difficulty sleeping and was doing a little channel surfing. I watched David Letterman for a few minutes. I rarely watch late night talk shows. Letterman was interviewing a comedian. The two were discussing an incident that occurred several years ago in the lobby of a Chicago hotel as the comedian was leaving the hotel to go to church. The comedian ran into former LA Dodger manager, Tommy Lasorda. The two had been friends, but had had a serious falling out. A fuming Lasorda confronted the comedian, poking him in the chest. Tempers escalated quickly. Ray Boom Boom Mancini was also in the hotel lobby and he jumped between the two men, talking them down from a physical confrontation.
Funny that I was thinking about Mancini yesterday, wondering what happened to him, and then, coincidentally, I heard a story about him last night. And that story was about Mancini stopping a fight before physical harm occurred. Here, I return to my thoughts about the different ways people handle guilt over a sense of responsibility for a death. The ref in the Mancini fight pronounced a death sentence upon himself for failing to stop the fight, while Mancini became a peacemaker, stopping two men about to come to blows. Of course, I don't know if Mancini has become a peacemaker, in general. I'm just speculating and this is a possibility I was pondering.
I also wondered how often guilt, whether conscious or unconscious, is a factor in the character formation of the peacemakers among us.
More: why does guilt lead to self-inflicted punishment?