I have occasionally tossed out a roundabout wish for the death of someone I know. Not to say that I set up a sacred alter and pray for anyone's death, but there are people I would not pray to save, either. I know that I'm supposed to believe that every life is sacred and that death is terrible regardless, but I just don't. I am apathetic about the lives of cruel people. I don't believe in the sanctity of all life, I believe in the sanctity of a good life.
Earlier this year, my husband's grandfather passed away. We got the call while enjoying a family lunch in Panera Bread. My husband sighed, thanked his mother for making the call, and sadly announced, "Grampa died this morning." I sat in silence a moment before torrents of tears spilled over my cheeks and into my chicken noodle soup. I tried to stifle my tiny sobs as my husband moved next to me, hugged me, and told me it would be alright.
His grandfather just died, and he was comforting me.
It's not that I was very close to his grandfather; in fact, we'd only met once, just a few months earlier. But he was so kind. He and his wife were the first elders in my husband's entire family to welcome me with open arms. They met me, they liked me, and they treated me like family. And when Grampa held my daughter, I could see the joy radiating from his eyes. He loved her immediately, and I think she loved him, too.
When I heard about his passing, an awful thought flitted through my brain: Why this grandfather?
Perhaps that goes beyond apathy and becomes cruelty. How could I wish death on another human being? I wish I could say I felt instantly guilty, but that would be a lie. To this day, I wish they would have traded places.
My husband's other grandfather is a cruel, selfish, domineering man who spent his life physically and emotionally abusing his wife and eleven children. He treats everyone like they are a pebble stuck in the tread of his orthopedic shoes. When he first met my daughter, he sneered at her and demanded to know why he should care to see her, his first and only great-grandchild. There is no love in his heart, and the world is no more joyous for his existence. I will not mourn his passing in the slightest.
When I was in high school, a classmate of mine died. He was the cousin of a friend, and that friend asked me to accompany her to the viewing. I obliged, even though I had never been close to the boy. In fact, he'd been quite horrible to me. Just another in a sea of faces that used to delight in harassing me every moment I was stuck within the brick and mortar of that academic torture chamber. As I accompanied my friend over to the open casket and stared at the chalky face of my tormentor, I felt empty. All I could hear in my head were the slurs he screamed at my back, all I could see were the lewd gestures he made at me in the hall and all of the countless pointed fingers. And I could not feel sad over his death. I did not feel joyous or vindicated, but I felt distinctly hollow.
I sometimes wonder if these feelings are a sign of a deranged mental pathology that I should try to remedy. Perhaps I'm far more condemnatory than I ever thought (and I always did call myself judgmental). But I like to think I simply value joy above misery, that I just have a good radar for picking out the “bad seeds” and not wasting my energy on them.
Or perhaps I’m just a lousy human being. But I prefer my explanation.