The Balfour Case

It’s the story of a woman who left her child in her car and the child died.

The hearing, which has been taking place today, was being reported on the TV in the hairdresser’s today when I went for my haircut.

“Stupid woman,” said this young girl with a green bug tattooed above her bum crack. “She should get electrified.”

“You just don’t do that,” agreed one of the hairdressers, broom in hand. “Uh-uh. You don’t.”

“Well,” said the woman who cuts my hair, as she put plastic around the sagging head of an elderly woman,  “I won’t say anything. I can’t say anything.”

“You wouldn’t do that to your kids!” said the girl, angrily.

“No, I wouldn’t want to, but I don’t know, I don’t know what happened, I can’t say it wouldn’t.”

Later, when it was just me and the older lady and my hairdresser in the room, we all agreed that it’s impossible to pass judgment on poor Balfour.

“I wouldn’t want to say it, and then boom, have something happen,” my hairdresser said.

“People go through terrible things,” concurred the lady.

“I can imagine her misery is enough to punish her,” I said.

“We can’t imagine that misery,” said the old lady, firmly.

She is right.

So, I was heartened and interested by this debate. Ever since I heard this awful story, I’ve been not only extra careful about whether or not I’ve remembered (or my husband has) to get our daughter out of the car (!), but I’ve been aware in general of how transparent the line is between safe and unsafe behavior, between between criminal and benevolent neglect when it comes to caring for and raising a child.

  • How many of us have stepped away from the bathtub, when we shouldn’t have?
  • How many of us have found foreign objects in our child’s mouth that could have caused a choking death?
  • How many of us have forgotten to close the door to the stairwell?
  • How many of us are so stressed and tired that our ability to think clearly and to parent well has been compromised?

It would be so easy to say about this poor woman that I would NEVER be so awful and dumb and forgetful so as to do what she did. It would make me feel easier, safer, and better about myself to put her in the category of Awful, Other Woman Who I am Not.

But as they used to say in the old days, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’

I am no better than Balfour.

This is a tough thing to say, because it seems to imply that I have the capability to do something awful like she did.

Guess what? I do.

Guess what? We ALL do.

Given the circumstances, we are all capable of a million evil, awful, forgetful, neglectful things.

To rest in a mirage of self-satisfaction that any of us is morally superior on some essential level to someone else is the essence of ignorance.

To acknowledge that we are human and thus flawed and to commit to trying to be as compassionate and as aware as possible, to make the best choices we can, knowing that sometimes those choices will blow up in our faces, that we can’t control the consequences of even the best intentions, to offer compassion to those who fail mightily – it is hard to do this, but it is more honest as to the nature of who we are as individuals in this world…

It’s really tough to write about this. It is a story of absolute horror. To be the cause of your own child’s accidental death… no, I can’t imagine that misery.  But somehow, I try to. And then I pray for grace. For all of us. For the little and the big things we leave undone, as well as things we do.

“She should be glad I’m not the judge,” said the girl to the television, her tattoo wiggling.

But, this girl sits (wiggles) in judgment.

I am trying the opposite. I am not the judge.


2 Responses to The Balfour Case

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Exellent post. You put into words exactly how I feel.

  2. Amanda says:

    I second that. I actually forgot to buckle mine once and like 5 minutes later, she was crawling around and I had to pull off the road. I felt terrible. But I was lucky nothing terrible happened as result of the mistake.

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