What is it with humans? Where do we find the energy, time, desire and how-to for the sure destruction of others? What turns us from a life spent paying the bills and watching the news to making the news? Yesterday I turned on television to watch the Superbowl pre-game activities and instead saw live reporting of a burnt out shell of a house in Graham, Washington. Josh Powell had deliberately taken the lives of his two young sons and himself in the house fire he set with accelerants throughout the house.
Here in Utah Josh Powell was at the center of suspicion over his wife’s disappearance in December 2009. Powell, his missing wife Susan, and over half a dozen family members on both sides have been in local news fighting over custody of Susan and Josh’s sons, accusations of infidelity, and child pornography whenever the police thought they had another lead that inevitably made statewide headlines and ended in failure to find Susan’s body.
It’s all been nothing but sad while it went from ugly to uglier to now, with three deaths, ugliest. Sort of, in a cerebral kind of way, I understand the anger and passion that can rise up to the heat of wanting someone dead. It becomes closer and less cerebral if I imagine someone in my family harmed by another, or my daughter or mother missing with no trace found.
Yet, still, what is it with humans? Where do we find the energy, time, desire and how-to for the sure destruction of others? And so often? It’s not like this tragic case is isolated. At least two other local murders and one missing person story are also in today’s Salt Lake Tribune, though the Powell story dominates with almost four full newspaper pages. By coincidence popular columnist Robert Kirby wrote about the frequency of spouses paying to have the person they promised to stay with until death do they part, meet their death on television shows like 48 Hours and Dateline. Kirby’s approach was humorous and written as social commentary. It is timing that is grotesquely hilarious in its black humor that underscores his point.
Human emotion is so overwhelming, while logic and compassion are so frail, that there are no answers that can be counted on to make a difference. Take Josh Powell’s childhood and name half a dozen turning points that made him the man who willingly took the lives of his two helpless sons, and then take the turning points of a selected football player in yesterday’s Superbowl and this is what I would bet: A reader of the cold facts of their early lives could not tell the difference in why one of the men became a murderer and one became a sports star.