Then a few days after that, the Washington Post Sunday Magazine carried an article titled 'Fatal Distraction', a story about the parents who forget their children are in the car and go about their business. Over the past couple of years, particularly during the summer, I'd started noticing news items of such babies. The stories are prevalent in the summer because for a small child locked in a car parked outside, the combination of heat and humidity can prove to be fatal.
It is, as the article says, an 'incomprehensible, modern way' in which children die. Children are put in the back of the car and they are seated facing the back of the car for their safety, because that is the safest position for the mandatory car seats. So a parent getting down from the car and getting ready to go to work or to the grocery store or to the doctor cannot see the baby unless they go round to the back and look for the baby.
Of course, the first reaction to any story such as the ones profiled in the article is one of judgement: "How could they do that? How could they forget their own child? How could they be so careless? They must not care for the child. I would never do such a stupid thing as that. What could be so important in their lives that they forgot their baby?" You try, half-heartedly, to make sense of the how of it all, and are only too willing to give up.
Not so Gene Weingarten.
A humor columnist for the Washington Post, Weingarten turns a gentle, sympathetic, understanding eye toward these tortured souls. And in doing so, tells us our first reaction is to be expected, but that the parents really deserve better than that. They have punished themselves way more than any of us or our judicial system could ever do - they have put themselves under a life sentence of guilt; they have wanted to die themselves; they know what they've done and will live the rest of their lives fitfully reliving the events of that fateful day. And really, there go I but for the grace of god, right?
At one of the trials, the defendant's family took the witness stand in his defense:
From the witness stand, Harrison's mother defiantly declared that Miles had been a fine son and a perfect, loving father. Distraught but composed, Harrison's wife, Carol, described the phone call that her husband had made to her right after he'd discovered what he'd done, the phone call she'd fielded on a bus coming home from work. It was, she said, unintelligible screaming.The part of the story that resonated with me the most was this: present at the trial of one of the parents were two women not related to the defendant in any way - they were not friends or family or co-workers or part of the court. They were two women who had done the same terrible thing to their children. They did not need to be there, they had no role in the case; they did not want to be there. But they felt compelled to be there. Perhaps no one understood the defendant's state of mind better than those two women.
That is human connection at a level so raw, so fundamental and so refined - all at the same time.