Such a strange story in the Freep Sunday, a Rochelle Riley special on the aftermath of a case everyone who was paying attention in 2005 knows about — a mother and her two sons, killed instantly by a drunk driver. The case was especially egregious in the details: It happened at midday. The driver was utterly shitfaced. He hit her car, stopped to make a left turn into the dentist’s office, at an estimated 70 miles per hour. There wasn’t a single skid mark to indicate he tried to slow down first. He was driving a Yukon, she an Accord. So, so awful. All Gary Weinstein’s chickens and their dam in one fell swoop.
This was in 2005. The driver, Tom Wellinger, was tried and convicted of second-degree murder, and is serving 19-30 years in prison. So what’s the story about? Forgiveness.
Now. If you know me at all, you know I am a world-champion grudge holder. If you were filling out brackets for this sport, you’d be smart to have me and David Simon in the final four, perhaps with an Albanian and Sicilian blood-feuder. It’s not that I’m incapable of forgiveness. I just don’t like the version peddled today, in which you forgive someone who has wronged you by hugging them on Oprah’s set and then adding them to your Christmas-card list. This seems crazy to me. This is the forgiveness I practice: I decide to put stuff behind me. And then I move on. But I reserve the right to not like the other person forever and ever.
Because what else can you do? It’s been my experience that when you get seriously fucked over, it’s pretty rare for the fucker to come back later and say, “I did a terrible thing to you. I apologize, and I ask your forgiveness.” Nooooo. They go on about their lives, eating ice cream and otherwise not being bothered by the face they see in the mirror every day. Life could hardly go on, otherwise. Because we’ve all been that fucker, sometime, to someone. We might not even be aware of it.
But this new brand of forgiveness is the hot thing now, and it’s the bass line of this piece by Riley, which promotes a film project called Project Forgive, being produced by a woman who knew both men at the center of this story — Weinstein the widower and Wellinger the drunk driver, and here’s where I start to look around for the nearest exit:
“There are two Toms,” she said (of the killer), “Tom, this man who killed a family and is in jail, and Tom, a beautiful, loving family man who happened to make a horrific mistake.”
Sure, that guy. Stories at the time indicated this beautiful man was on an epic bender at the time, with a blood-alcohol content around .4. Riley picks up on this ironic detail:
The saddest twist of fate, she said, was that Tom Wellinger’s immediate family had flown to Michigan the day of the accident to stage an intervention over his drinking.
It was scheduled for the next day.
That is not the saddest twist of fate, sorry, no. The saddest twist of fate is the three dead people, and have you ever been to an intervention? Frequently, the person at the center says, “No, I’m not checking into your little rehab center. In fact, I’m leaving right now” and walks out of the room. But she’s going somewhere here, and it’s in the direction of forgiveness. Then this mushroom pops up in the middle of the copy:
(Weinstein) also attributes much of his success and life philosophy to Landmark personal development seminars, something that he said chased away many girlfriends but intrigued the woman he eventually married. (His wife) attended a seminar with him and eventually became a Landmark leader.
What is a Landmark personal development seminar? There’s no explanation. So I went a-Googling. And wow:
If, like me, you are not in the habit of sharing highly personal tidbits of your life with 148 strangers for 13 hours a day, three days in a row, then let me, uh, share with you what that experience feels like. It feels like intergalactic jet lag, or like someone has pumped your head full of a global weather system, heavy on the cumulonimbus. Some of the 148 strangers were crying so much, they looked as if they had been boiled.
After nearly 40 hours inside the basement of Landmark Education’s world headquarters, I have not Transformed. Nor have I “popped” like microwave popcorn, as the Forum Leader striding back and forth at the front of the windowless gray room has promised. In fact, by the time he starts yelling and stabbing the board with a piece of chalk around hour 36, it’s become clear that I’ll be the hard kernel left at the bottom of this three-and-a-half-day Landmark Forum. I have, however, Invented the Possibility of a Future in which I get a big, fat raise, a Future I’ll Choose to Powerfully Enroll my bosses in, now that I am open to Miracles Around Money.
And an even bigger wow:
Though it’s hardly a secret, Landmark does not advertise that it is the buttoned-down reincarnation of the ultimate ’70s self-actualization philosophy, est.
Dragging that around in your backpack — to borrow an image from “Up in the Air” — you almost have to find yourself confronting your wife’s killer in a jail cell, and asking after his kids.
“I want him to speak so that the world will know he’s not a monster,” Weinstein said. “My understanding is that he’s not. I can appreciate that people who know what happened to me think I should be vindictive against him for what he did. But I don’t come at it from that point at all.”
Again: Wow. I can’t figure if this is brilliant or not. If I’d done something like Wellinger did, I think a fate worse than death would be to have my victim’s survivors embrace me like this. To care about my family. To tell people I’m not a monster. Maybe this is jujitsu. But there was a strange undercurrent to this story. Some things can’t be forgiven in that way.
Or maybe I’m just in dire need of a Landmark personal-development seminar. Has anyone here done one of these?
How was your weekend. We saw “The Hunger Games,” about which I’ll have more to say tomorrow. In the meantime? Bloggage:
For you photography nerds, inside the 3D conversion of “Titanic.”
Remember when college riots were sparked by politics and anger over national policy? Yeah, me neither.
Monday awaits! Another slog of a week, but one I’m happy to participate in.