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Waukesha Meets Slenderman

Waukesha Meets Slenderman Randen Pedersen

Randen Pedersen

John Paul Shimek - published on 06/06/14

This is a safe community, but what went wrong?

Something gruesome happened in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Two girls stabbed a helpless little twelve year old nineteen times. She almost died. More traumatic than the knife jabs themselves was the fact that these three were supposed to be friends — members of the same community.

Yet, it happened. And, the news of that vicious crime made national headlines. It circled the country. The news popped up in other people’s Facebook news feeds and scrolled across the tickers on the twenty-four news networks. Experts tried to explain what happened. But, it didn’t happen to them. For them, it was just a startling piece of news the man on television reported.

See, it happened to us and to the people we know and love. It happened in our community. That little girl was rushed to our hospital and treated by our doctors and nurses. We told our friends about it. The news passed around our town by word-of-mouth.

At our cafés and restaurants, we talk about it. We ask ourselves why this evil thing should have happened to our little girl in our community. This is a safe community. People know one another and look out for one another here. What went wrong? What didn’t we do right? Where did we fail?

Waukesha county is my home. My sister and brother-in-law live in the town of Waukesha. I spent my birthday there last week, fishing in a little stream — the kind you find in small town rural America. I caught a blue gill that afternoon, but I threw it back in the water. It belonged there. Things have their place in Waukesha.

For example, if you want a big box chain store, then you have to go far outside the downtown area. Those aren’t downtown. On the edge of town, they keep a big city car dealer. But, people get around on foot downtown. They know where to find things. So, they walk. As they go, they greet and talk with their friends and neighbors. On cool summer evenings, they like to walk past the little mom and pop stores that populate the main street. There is a little old ladies’ dress shop that doesn’t sell designer labels. There, the women buy dresses that don’t reveal their backs and shoulders. And, they pick out hats they wear to the little churches that stand near the center of town. I think they sell gloves there, too, which the women wear on Easter.

If you’re not a little old lady, then you can go to the bookstore across the street. It features the work of local artists and novelists. And, the shop is within walking distance of my favorite coffee shop. Sometimes I’ll pick something up there and then walk over for an iced coffee drink, stopping to talk to locals along the way.

If you want some music on a weekend night, then the downtown’s main street is the place to go. Sometimes they rope it off for a music or guitar festival. Locals know the difference, but I digress. Les Paul, the inventor of the electric guitar, was from here. We have a street named after him. But, he isn’t the town’s only claim to fame.

Waukesha is one of the birthplaces of the Republican Party. In fact, it is the most Republican county in the nation. On election nights, it lights up red like a big pimple. Shortly after Paul Ryan was tapped as Mitt Romney’s VP pick, he made one of his first public appearances here. He spoke to a crowd in a field by a farmhouse. I was there, but I don’t remember what he said. All I remember is that pick up trucks and minivans rolled in by the hundreds for hours and local farmhands brought square haystacks over for the old people to sit on. Then, the ladies’ auxiliary and the men’s civic groups served punch and ice cream and the children played in the field. That night, we all felt like deer caught in headlights as national television crews and swarms of journalists descended upon us. We felt uncomfortable with the attention, strutting around like peacocks. But, we were together and that felt right.

Being together is what we do well here. From an early age, we’re taught how to be together. We shovel one another’s snowy driveways, we congregate together at our little churches and pitch in together at our parish bazaars, and we look forward to spending evenings out together during the few warm weather months we get here. Winters are harsh. So, we spend much of the year indoors together, sitting by the hearth in our family homes. This is the kind of small town where neighbors still remember what it means to be neighbors. There’s an art to that and we haven’t forgotten it.

But, after recent events, some things can only be considered by the light of faith because they’re too much to handle — too much to burden — alone in the darkness of reality. Faith knows how and what to tell us about the harshness of a world grown cold and dark by sin and overshadowed by clouds of evil. Belief, which is public and communal, brings us together and gives us hope to share. It lightens the load we carry in this world.

But, it is no general anesthetic. It doesn’t give us an exit from reality. Instead, it helps us to confront reality together.

Our faith teaches us that we are fallen, that sin is real, and that sin is never private. The wages of sin are social because we all pay for them. The effects of sin permeate and seep into our communities, fracturing and ripping apart the seems and hems that hold us together. Evil, which is real, is a megaphone that shouts in our ears and wakes us from our deafness. It grabs us by our collars, pulling us out of ourselves, and throwing us into the hands of God. When it strikes us, our only option is to turn toward God and one another.

Turning to God, and relying on one another, returning to communion with God and community with one another, is the only way we’ll get through something like this. It’s the only way we’ll heal and overcome this evil.

John Paul Shimek is a Roman Catholic theologian and a specialist on Vatican affairs. He maintains a blog entitled The Pilgrim Journalist.

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