Thursday, September 25, 2014

What Is Important?

     Here in Northeastern Pennsylvania we have learned more about the massive manhunt for Eric Matthew Frein, the man who has been evading capture by law enforcement officers for over twelve days. The PA State Police are convinced he is in our forests, in a small area in the northern part of our county. They believe they’ve had sightings from a distance, and the PSP officer who is giving the information also said residents have reported sightings as well.
     I know I am repeating myself, but unless you’ve ventured into these thick forested regions it’s hard to understand how easy it is to virtually disappear … into the underbrush, behind a rock, into a bear cave. The LEOs are very much aware this man is armed and very dangerous. They have not been close enough to make a positive identification, and they have to proceed with caution. None of us wants anyone else hurt or killed.
     What does news about an alleged killer have to do with “Words and Music”? More than you might think.
     I grew up in a kinder, gentler era, the middle of the twentieth century. Yet even then, violent people sometimes committed violent acts. In my town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, one such event had an impact on me that has lasted my entire life. 
     When I was a junior at Oak Ridge High School, a dear friend went through an unimaginable family tragedy. Her estranged brother-in-law broke into her home one Saturday night and shot and killed her mother, shot her father who died within hours, and shot her other brother-in-law, who lingered in agony for some three months before dying.
     Anita had gone to the movies by herself that night, as she sometimes did, and walked home to find this awful event had happened while she was not home. A friend called me and my dad drove me to the hospital where I spent some time with her. This took place the weekend before our school had auditions for the spring musical, which was to be Rodgers and Hammerstein’s powerful show Carousel. Anita was a fine actress and singer and it seemed she would certainly be cast in one of the three principal female roles.
     The directors of the show decided to wait a week to hold auditions. Even so, Anita auditioned within a week after burying both her parents. She won the leading role of Julie Jordan, and gave a polished and moving performance in the role, inspiring all of us … students and teachers alike … with her courage and poise. The show has been extremely meaningful to me ever since, and in March of 2013 I directed a production at the high school where I’ve been directing musicals since 1991.
     The following summer for the first time in my life I wrote a book. Anita’s story needed to be told, and HOW I GREW UP was published at the end of October. At the suggestion of a friend, I wrote the novel in the first person. It is a work of fiction, but it is based on the events surrounding the shooting and Anita’s subsequent triumph on stage. 
     Creativity, in this particular instance, music and theater, can have a healing effect on a troubled spirit. Sadly, my friend died young of breast cancer, but she shone brightly for many years prior to her death.
     I never understood why her brother-in-law committed this heinous act. I was told he was an abusive husband, and Anita’s sister had left him more than once and had returned to him. That’s a story we hear far too often. The difference in this story is that he did not shoot his wife, who was present, but her parents and the one man in the house who might have been able to stop him. But Anita’s other sister’s husband was the killer's first target.
     He attempted to flee back to Mississippi, but was caught before he crossed the Tennessee state line. He was imprisoned and eventually tried, and I believe his plea was not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. He claims he was driven to his act because his wife’s parents interfered in his marriage and persuaded his wife to leave him. He served twelve years of a fifteen-year prison sentence. For taking three lives.
     There is speculation about a motive behind Frein’s alleged shooting of the two PA State Troopers, but at this point it is exactly that, speculation. He is reported to have been part of a group that re-enacts battles by military forces in Eastern Europe. One item found in the woods was reported as packs of “Serbian cigarettes.”
     There is far too much violence in today’s world, and the news from the Middle East is disturbing. How the current situation in our county will be resolved remains to be seen. Of much greater import is what is happening with our world, where war seems to be on-going … not because we choose it, but because we cannot avoid it. The world has become very small.
     I am fortunate to be able to escape into that “kindler, gentler time” as both my novels take place during the second half of the twentieth century. And my characters are people whose lives are filled with courage, love, and music. It’s been difficult recently to concentrate on completing my third novel because of the local events, but it’s helped me to put words and thoughts together for my blog.
     It was heartwarming to learn residents of the area of Monroe County most affected yesterday put up dozens of navy blue bows and American flags to show their support for the more than one thousand law enforcement officers now searching for Frein. Donations of food, beverages, and other necessities are being delivered constantly by both local residents and businesses throughout this part of the state. No one likes what is going on. It is impressive to see the community work together, either in person or through social media, to keep each other’s spirits up.
     Courage and love can be evidenced by such a simple act as making a blue bow and displaying it … or sending a message to a friend who is living in the “war zone.” Those are important. There are good people who live in our county.

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