Certain traumas have a grip on me. Ghastly crimes perpetrated by "ordinary" demons seem to command my attention. The Unabomber, Son of Sam and Bernie Madoff come to mind. So it was riveting to read this dialogue between Gail Collins and David Brooks today on the Greek tragedy being played out by Mark Madoff's suicide:
David Brooks: The second death I wanted to mention is Mark Madoff’s. Here, I confess I have mixed feelings. Of course one feels terrible for the suicide victim himself. I find it possible to believe he didn’t know about his father’s schemes. He did turn the old guy in, after all. Moreover, he left a 2-year-old in the next room, which suggests a seriously deranged state of mind.
Gail Collins: The 2-year-old in the next room part was where he lost me. What kind of person leaves a suicide note saying, in effect, “I love you and oh, somebody better check on the kid.”
David Brooks: And yet am a I rotten person for thinking some proper retribution has been inflicted upon the old man?
Gail Collins: Wow, David. Didn’t think you were going there. But continue.
David Brooks: Bernie Madoff endangered his family and his friendships for money. He inflicted untold pain on thousands of people. Somehow there is cruel justice in the fact that the shocks of his crimes should reverberate back on him in this way. He has to live with the knowledge that he caused his son’s death.
Gail Collins: O.K., I can see where you’re going now — back to the Greeks, right?
The suicide of Mark Madoff is like a Greek tragedy where the pain would course through families, and the sons would pay for the sins of their fathers.
David Brooks: Yes, this too is Greek, because in those old tragedies, pain would course through families; and the sons, as the unavoidable saying goes, would pay for the sins of their fathers. Those old plays presumed that the universe is essentially just, and that there are moral laws and filaments so that evil eventually leads to evil.
Gail Collins: It sounded very profound when Sophocles wrote about it. But I have the terrible feeling that in our era, it’s been boiled down to “Everything happens for a reason.” I would love to see a statistic on how many times people in reality show competitions say that. Is it really possible to believe there’s a cosmic purpose behind getting kicked off the island in “Survivor”?
David Brooks: I’m not so sure we can be so confident of that. But crimes do tend to impose rippling waves of pain.