Dec 09 2013
I have a confession to make. I am a true crime junkie. For years I was drawn to anything that dealt with the solutions to actual crimes. Whether it was a book, a movie, or a newspaper account, I was fascinated by the motives that drove people to commit hideous acts, and the process used to track them down and bring them to justice.
I didn’t just read the books. I was interested in the details in the way that a forensic scientist would be interested. I was fascinated by larvae or body temperatures or petechial hemorrhages. Long before television audiences stared wide-eyed at the guys on “CSI,” I anticipated the death scene in a book and wondered whether the hyoid bone was broken and what the lividity would tell me.
It was a conscious decision that I made one day to kick my addiction. I was getting hooked on true crime just the same way that other people were getting hooked on video games or even on pornography. It was hardening me in a way that I knew I wasn’t supposed to be hard. This scared me.
On another level, I knew that there were much better things to do with my day than to spend my life watching the newly-launched Court-TV. I have read too many books about near-death experiences, where the dead are shown an overview of their entire life. I didn’t want to be standing at the pearly gates and trying to justify spending a large portion of my life immersed in blood and gore.
When I quit, it was cold turkey. I stopped reading the books. I stopped going to the movies. I stopped watching Court-TV. (I am glad the O.J. Simpson trial was recently over by then, because I did a lot of housework as I listened to that trial, even stripping the wax off the floors in our kitchen. I would never have stripped those floors without O.J. Simpson, and I want to thank the Juice for that.)
Ever since I quit, I have stayed away from true crime completely. When people ask me for my opinions on a big case, I stare at them blankly. I know the names, but I don’t know the victim from the perpetrator. I do this on purpose. I know I sound like an ignoramus, but I have to stay away from it completely or I’ll get hooked again.
There is one exception. When we go on vacation, all bets are out the window. Because we don’t have our trusty TiVo to manage our television, we’re stuck with watching whatever happens to be on at the moment. And even with several dozen cable stations, sometimes the pickings are pretty slim. So we find ourselves watching stuff that we would never watch at home.
During a recent vacation, we found that one of the cable stations was running a marathon of shows about forensic detectives. Immortalized by such fictional shows as “CSI,” these are the scientists who solve crimes using techniques such as fingerprints, fibers, and DNA evidence. But the series we watched was not fictional, and all of the stories shown were based on actual cases.
One case we watched was particularly memorable. A man was found dead, and his wife was the suspect. He had been threatening to divorce her, and she didn’t want to lose her part of the estate. When they found what was left of the husband, his body had been wrapped in plastic and partially dissolved using an acid that can be found at hardware stores.
One of the detectives suggested they go to all the local hardware stores where this unusual acid had been recently purchased, and see if they could discover anything by looking at the footage from the security cameras. Sure enough, at one of the stores they found images of a woman buying a plastic tarp and two packages of the acid that had been used.
There was only one problem. They couldn’t positively identify the woman in the video as the suspect. She had paid in cash, and had disguised herself with bulky clothes, a floppy hat, and a pair of sunglasses.
But then the detectives spotted something that broke the case wide open. The woman in the video had used a preferred-customer card to get a discount on her purchase. The detectives were then able to get the card number from the receipt and track it back to the victim’s wife.
Armed with the video and other evidence, they were able to convict the woman of murdering her husband, and she received a sentence of 20 years in prison.
Here’s the punch line to the story. By using her preferred-customer card, the woman had saved a whopping $0.34 on her purchase. She would never have been arrested if she hadn’t used her card to save those thirty-four cents. In retrospect, she probably was not very happy about the bargain she made.
This got me to thinking about the decisions we make, and how they can alter our future. I doubt many of us could top the woman in this story in terms of bad decisions. But I’m sure all of us can look back at past decisions and say, “If only I hadn’t done that.”
Fluffy and I like to play computer games. We used to love playing Duke Nukem, a one-person shooter game where you could have lots of fun blasting aliens. Like many computer games, Duke has a “save” feature, where you can save the status of your game and then reload it later.
This was always helpful if you were exploring a new sector of the game and were worried about being attacked. If things didn’t go well, and the aliens really blasted you, you could always reload the game from the last saved point and try again and again until you were satisfied with your results.
Wouldn’t it be nice if life had a “save” feature? We could do a “save” before making any big decision, and then go back to that point if we decided later that we had made a wrong choice.
None of us have a crystal ball, and none of us can predict the outcome of the hundreds of decisions we make on a daily basis. When we make the wrong decisions, we just have to clean up the mess as well as we can and keep on trying. Hopefully, even our worst decisions will not result in something as serious as a twenty-year prison stay.
Just as we are all human, we will all make our share of mistakes and have to deal with them. If we are living as we should, we will learn from our mistakes and not repeat them in the future.
For most religious people, the gift of repentance is the closest we can come to having a “do over.” It is a great feeling to know that God will remember our sins no more. Sometimes the hardest part is forgiving ourselves and allowing ourselves to move on. Some sins can weigh heavily on our minds long after everyone else has forgotten about the incident.
Another big feature of repentance is the act of restitution. Although it isn’t possible to restore everything to rights, part of the repentance process requires us to do what we can to make the injured party whole again.
That is why parents march their shoplifting children back down to the store to return what they stole, and why young baseball players often have memories of working to make money to replace broken windows. When people learn at a young age how painful the act of restitution is, they are far less likely to want to do things as an adult that will require them to make restitution in the future.
Receiving the gift of repentance means we must acknowledge that everyone else is worthy of the same gift — even individuals or groups we don’t like. As the scriptures remind us, we can only receive this great blessing as long as we extend forgiveness to everyone else. That’s easier said than done, but once we are able to do it we are well on the road to spiritual maturity.
During this time of year, I hope we are not so caught up in the celebrations of the season that we overlook the true blessings in our lives, such as repentance and forgiveness. They are gifts that will bring us peace and happiness long after the other pretty gifts under the tree are opened and forgotten.