He's 74 and bald and has a beard not unlike mine but still more black in in than my whiteness.
I didn't know he was that old until I saw it on the Internet with his new photo, looking even older than 74, but still with the swastika tattooed between his eyes.
I was 22 when the murders happened and as shocked as I was--as we all were--by that violence (how tame it seems to what violence we've known since...) I probably wouldn't be so obsessed with him except for two things. Squeeky Frome, one of his girls, was in prison in Alderson, WV and all things West Virginian interest me. And there was this: the first parish I served was St. James in west Charleston--a black church in a redneck neighborhood because the diocese wanted to kill it off, so far as I could see--about a block from where Charlie grew up. I probably passed relatives or friends of his in the Kroger store or on the street. I was always aware that I was in Charlie's 'neighborhood' while I was the priest at St. James.
And now he is old and will die in prison. And I am getting older and will die somewhere, somehow. Charlie probably had people who loved him when he was a child--maybe not, since that would explain his madness--but I think he did. I don't think madness of the category of Charlie can be easily explained away. He grew up about 75 miles north of where I grew up and his disciples killed Sharon Tate and Abigale Folger and three others one night in California. I'm not sure why I remember those two names and not the names of the other three, who are as dead as Sharon and Abigale.
And I don't know why I was so surprised and moved to see his picture on the web. Or why we are still, in some way connected.
While I was at St. James, there was a gas station half-a-mile down the road that blew up when two men from the state were inspecting the tank. The explanation was that one of them was wearing shoes with heel tabs on them and a spark set off the gaseous residue around the tanks. Does anyone put those tabs on their shoes anymore? But the people in the neighborhood knew different--that gas station blew up because it was only a hundred feet from where Charlie grew up.
Evil endures for most of us and insinuates itself into everything around it.
I heard a radio show today about "excitable children". It was about kids that in my childhood we would have called 'bad'. I wonder if Charlie was like that or if he was just a normal, everyday kid who, in ways beyond believing, went bad?
Maybe if his mom had heard that radio show Charlie would be a CPA in Charleston and Sharon Tate would be an aging starlet and those two guys who got blown to Kingdom Come at the gas station would be grandfathers playing golf somewhere.
My theology runs dry when it is confronted with Charlie Manson or Stalin or Hitler or the rulers in Darfor or those folks who blew themselves up this week to kill innocent people. I don't know what to make of them--they don't fit the grid and defy my optimistic view of human nature.
Today one of the most helpless homeless who come through St. John's, a guy who is seldom, if ever, sober or straight and lives under a bridge or in a tent city behind the Home Depot was wearing a sweat shirt someone obviously gave him that said "Save Darfor".
Don't tell me there is no irony. Irony, by the way, is something I will write about at lengths beyond your willingness to read at some point.
Tonight I will sleep with two thoughts in my mind that I hope my dreams will inform: what is my 'animal familiar', because my friend Malinda told me she asked that from a dream and got a horse--a creature she does not like--AND I hope my dreams will tell me someway to deal with Charlie Manson and his ilk, who I cannot explain.
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