Since I left a hard and unforgiving church at the age of 18, I’ve believed neither in heaven nor hell, neither God nor the devil. Instead I believed in an endless continuum between those extremes, a human continuum. “For there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Now my disbelief has been shaken. The actions of a single man in a one-room Amish schoolhouse seem so unconscionably malicious that I’m nearly forced to believe in unadulterated evil, in darkness made visible.
That a man could separate sisters from brothers, teacher from students, and then began pumping bullets into the body of Naomi Rose Ebersole, age 7; Anna Mae Stoltzfus, age 12; Marian Fisher, age 13; Mary Liz Miller, age 8; and her sister Lena Miller, age 7, staggers even my credulity and I have seen a fair amount of cruelty.
This was no distant assassination. This man stood close to his victims, close enough to be splattered with blood and brain, close enough to see in detail the devastating damage a bullet does to flesh and bone, to smell the stench as children died and lost control of their bodies. This man came as close as I can imagine to surrendering his soul to hell.
By neighbors’ account he seemed an ordinary man, a quiet man—good father, loving husband. Then one day he walked into a schoolroom and in a calculated moment transformed himself into a mythic image, an angel of wrath, blood drenched and awful. The truly terrifying thing is that such madness is not divine but human. This was not a myth but a man who surrendered himself to darkness and left behind a swath of shattered lives—the families of the victims and his own. The truly terrifying thing is that such madness might overtake any one of us. If it happend to one, why not another, why not ourselves? How can we be certain otherwise? That is the real heart of darkness.