beneath the floorboards

April 9, 2009

“That guy who killed the Pittsburgh cops this weekend,” my co-worker said. “Everyone they interviewed kept talking about how nice he had always been to them.”

“There’s no way he was nice. There was nothing good, nothing good, nothing good, about that man,” someone interjected.

At that moment Sufjan Steven’s song John Wayne Gacy Jr. floated through my head.

That song has haunted me lately. It’s incredible how pristine Sufjan can make the acts of a serial killer sound by describing it in light images within the context of a gorgeously chilling ballad. But the part that really gets me, and probably gets to most people who spend time listening to the lyrics, are the last few lines:

And on my best behavior I am really just like him.
Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.

I looked up the lyrics on and was sorely disappointed when I browsed through the explanations that people provided for the song. They ranted about how Sufjan could never really be comparing himself to a monster like Gacy, or, alternatively, they tried to label his lyrics as overtly Christian by offering that this line refers to the way we are all sinners in God’s eyes. floorboards

It’s becomming increasingly evident to me as I spend my days working with drug addicts, alcoholics, homeless, the abused, people with mental health diagnoses, and ex-convicts, that these labels I just listed off do not define any of those people. That people are not equal to their worst behaviors. That the man who recently shot the police officers in Pittsburgh did a horrible thing, but it was one action, one day in an entire lifetime. And he will forever be defined by that day. That short period of time has eternally replaced his identity in other people’s eyes as a person for that of a killer. Such a title oversimplifies life.

Reading John Wayne Gacy Jr.‘s story is disgustingly painful, but I can’t help to see through it all that although he did things that make him seem absolutely disgraceful and inhumane, he was still a person. He had a family.  He swung on swingsets. He laughed.

We all cause other people pain. But I can’t think of anyone who would want to be defined by the worst they can be.

It’s too easy to overlook that we all have a best.


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