I’ve been thinking a lot about the Germanwings pilot who (allegedly) flew the plane into the mountain with 149 people aboard. I see that the general reaction seems to be anger and revulsion. I join in everyone’s sorrow at the loss of so many innocents. But I can’t bring myself to revile the perpetrator. When people do inexplicable things, I just get hooked into wondering: why?
Crazy behavior has always captivated me. Not that I’m a fan. I’m a student. What causes people to step out of the banality of daily life and do something so shocking? Whenever someone does something awful, stunned friends and relatives always say, “He was just the nicest guy. You never would have expected something like this from him.” Are the people around us ticking time bombs? Are we?
I can’t let it go until I understand. And, of course, there’s never any understanding. It’s been a morbid fascination much of my life.
When I was a teenager, I found a book called Going Crazy at the library. The subtitle was: An Inquiry into Madness in Our Time (by Otto Freichrich). It is a far-ranging exploration about the line between sanity and insanity (yes, that’s the kind of stuff I liked to read as a teenager). The book, worth digging up if you can, examines the experience of “going crazy” (a decidedly unclinical term) from the perspective of the people who experienced it.
Although it’s fascinating, at the end you’re still left wondering: what causes some people to slip into behavior that seems unimaginable? What causes others, perhaps closer to seeming unhinged, to hold it together? Why does abuse turn some people into serial killers but others into saints and nurses and dog rescuers? Why does someone’s grief cause them to call a suicide hotline or a friend but cause others to allow a plot so dark to fester within them unspoken, until it leads them to slam into a mountain with scores of strangers in tow?
What’s the difference? Where’s the line? How can we know in advance who will cross it and who won’t?
We can’t, of course. Not always. People will always surprise us, sometimes for the good, but so often for the bad. I find that scarier than just about anything.