Marty (not-his-real name) was one of my parishioners many years ago—memorable nonetheless. His life would have been a case study in oppositional defiance if anyone had chosen to examine it. His parents and siblings were “good church members”—steady, reliable, active in volunteering and supporting as well as anyone else, but Marty was a no-show in the church and in the community as long as I was acquainted with him.
His father was a World War II veteran and his brother had served in the army, but Marty first showed up looking for me when he learned that I had been a draft counselor, and Marty wanted to avoid the draft at all costs, not on any principled grounds, as this was during the Vietnam war, but just because he didn’t want to serve his country under any circumstances. His timing was right and he managed to slip between the cracks when the draft lottery was instituted.
Next came his girlfriend, seeking help in dealing with his bad moods and abuse, which, predictably when co-dependence is strong, escalated steadily. He lived with his under-age girlfriend in her mother’s home, which I naively assumed should make it easy for her and her mother to kick him out. No child was involved. Neither she nor her mother could carry out a resolution to make Marty behave or leave. It appeared that her mother was as emotionally tied to Marty as his girlfriend was. We talked about all of their options, legally and behaviorally and in seeking help, but they did not change anything. Marty continued to abuse them within their own house.
Marty had trouble keeping a job, mostly because he could not take orders or follow directions. He always knew better than anyone else how any job should be done, or he simply did not want to do the job in anyone’s time other than his own. In his favor, Marty was intelligent and curious enough to figure out many things, and well-meaning employers saw his potential, especially when they knew the rest of his family and attempted with their enabling persuasion to give Marty another chance. Marty went from job to job at a time when many young adults were having trouble finding a first job.
Marty’s record included any misdemeanor you can name—tickets for speeding, parking, noise, shoplifting, drunkenness, disorderly conduct. Someone was always bailing him out in one way or another, although I could not persuade people that this was not helping Marty accept responsibility. I tried to find him, to talk with him about the direction of his life, but he was more adept at avoiding me than I was in catching him. For a while I lost track of him and the newspaper carried no more news of his infractions. I had hope that he might be growing up. He and his girlfriend had a son. She had stopped calling me to ask for advice. Things might be working out, I thought. Certainly I knew that there were many people praying that they would.
The end came in an unusual way. Marty had worked for a man who cleared trees and prepared land for development, and he knew where the dynamite was stored. Marty broke into the building and stole some dynamite and decided to have some fun with it, blowing things up. He was successful. One of the first things he blew up was himself.
I officiated at Marty’s funeral. I said in passing that there were many ways that Marty played with dynamite. My words were not appreciated.