An ax is never just an ax

Ms. Theologian is talking about racial harrassment and wonders if it could be at record levels because of, among other considerations, the economy. This reminded me of an incident that happened while we were in California that I suppose I had decided I would banish to the back of my brain because, if I spent any time thinking about it, right now, it would intensify my concern for my parents beyond my ability to conduct my life as I’m supposed to, as I need to.

With a hat tip to CC’s six word stories, here it is in a nutshell: Lose job. Grab ax. Chase wife. (the two-word epilog? Bail: $1million.). 

Here’s the fleshed out version: a man who lives on the same street as my parents, in the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, decided to chase his wife around the house with an ax. Some furniture was trashed. She lives. He’s in jail.  Until this moment on that particular day, this was a man my parents had respect for. He’s a philanthropist, said my dad. Then, after we heard the ax story, they tell me that he worked in the mortgage industry and had lost his job recently.

My parents live in a “nice” neighborhood. Or so I thought.  And I like to continue to think so or I will have to pack my belongings in my van and head to their house and guard them.  Which is, I think, where the world is headed—or at least Southern California and the rest of America.  Here’s why: people in Southern California (and across the nation) have tied themselves to houses they cannot afford. People have been paid outlandish sums of money in businesses that are now bankrupt and many of them don’t have easy access to the social support and/or that spiritual something that pulls them up out of despair when they most need it.  So, rather than solving the problem before them, they have a mental breakdown—and I mean a real breakdown, which is another reason I am so pissed off over they way Hilary Clinton choking up has been portrayed as a breakdown because if choking up when answering a question about the country you love and want to protect is a breakdown, then what word do we use to describe a man with no previous record of violence who grabs an ax and chases his wife? I mean, really? What word?.

It is a breakdown. A breakdown of the filters that keep us from acting on the thoughts we have. (I’ve never chased my husband with an ax.  Doesn’t mean I haven’t thought of it, but I’ve never done it.)

But it is also a breakdown of society, one we’ve seen before when we allow the greed of a few to tromp upon the protections of the many and the vulnerable.  Those people who decided to sell loans to people who hadn’t a chance in hell of paying them off had no idea of the “unintended consequences” of their choices.  A man chases his wife with an ax–how could that possibly be related to financing bad loans?

I’m not excusing the man for this, not at all. Some people face loss with grace and move forward. Others snap. And if the man had managed to kill his wife or do her any bodily damage, I’m not sure how I would respond to this.  But my fear is that we are just on the lip of the chasm created by unchecked, bad, immoral and illegal practices by people in the mortgage industry. My fear is more and more people will snap under the pressures of lost jobs, lost homes, lost senses of their own value as a human being as well as the loss of sense of the value of those they loved freely and easily when the money was pouring in.  And I fear that those of us who thought we lived in “nice” “safe” neighborhoods will find we never really did; that we were always one lost job away from tragedy.

And it is tragedy, isn’t it? Whenever we allow money and the lack of it to strip away love and its redemptive power.  What do we, as religious people, owe as a response to such tragedies? What protection do we, as a society, owe those who have been harmed both intentionally (those given loans they cannot pay back) and as “unintended consequences” (those who built lives based on the bad practices of their employers)? Do we owe anyone anything?  Can we, as people informed and inspired by liberal religion, live in a society where the answer is “no, we do not?”

A man chases his wife with an ax in a distant land and here I’ve told you it is the ruination of our very civilized society. Yes. And no. But I think it may very well be the harbinger of things to come.

And that scares me in ways that terrorism never has. Let’s make the next war we wage on a noun be on Greed. Throw in the adjective “Wanton” and you won’t even have to draft me; I’ll enlist.  Doh! Isn’t that what we UUs and other religious liberals and even liberals without religion have been speaking up for all along when we work for social, racial, and economic justice. 

It just feels a little more urgent right now.  Funny how a man with an ax changes everything.


About TinaLBPorter

I write poetry and blog at And I'm thrilled to be writing with you.
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7 Responses to An ax is never just an ax

  1. Care says:

    ==> A breakdown of the filters that keep us from acting on the thoughts we have.

    This sentence reminds me of a book, a very disturbing book, but anyway: We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. She discusses the thought and reaction you touch on.


  2. Pingback: The ax, revisited « uuMomma

  3. You have a wise 12yo. Physicist Brian Greene, when asked what the most compelling question of the day was (at an author visit in my home town), responded: “Why do we care about Paris Hilton and what she does?”



  4. uuMomma says:

    Ah, Spirit, don’t get me going down THAT road. I agree with you, and thought similar thoughts with all that we have seen, all that we are seeing. (And speaking of the Entertainment Page, I was looking for something to entertain me until Medium came on last night and stopped at MSNBC where they were talking about Britney’s latest and my 12 year old was there and said “Why do we care? Why do we need to know this?” She was channeling her grandmother, but I felt elated to think her voice and sensibility will be a part of this upcoming generation.)

    I just wonder, when we talk about politics and policy, how we can get back to creating that which is truly good for “the least of these.” It cannot all be government, and yet, it has to be government, too.


  5. Preach it, sister! You sure you’re not called to ministry? Sounds like you have some gifts in prophetic speech. 😉

    Seriously, you may recall a post of mine from a while back about a man who killed his estranged girlfriend, two of their three children, two other women and himself. The psychs called it “family annihilation syndrome” and I thought of it again when I heard the horror story from Florida which involved UUs (a man killed his ex-wife, her partner, his children and himself). And the news story of the man who flung his children into a river. And, and… well, just about any day you can check and find a new horror story (often on the Entertainment page, but I digress).

    Your analysis makes me wonder. Are we on the brink of a societal collapse – not just because of financial woes (though they are legion), but also because of how very afraid our government tries to makes us feel? And how difficult it is to support oneself without an expensive education – not to mention how difficult it is to get a decent job with benefits even with said education? And how there seems to be no connection anymore between loyalty and reward, and little commitment by employers to making good on past promises?

    What a world…


  6. I am trying to remember where I read (or saw) a nonfiction piece about the correlation between domestic violence and unemployment, but alas it is no longer on record in my brain. But, yes, I think that there are some crazy things going on in the economy fueled partially by the idea that all growth and increase is good at any cost.


  7. mskitty says:

    This is a terrific post, Momma. Thank you for expressing it so well and on a day when I am thinking about all the ramifications of classism, because it bears on that subject as well.


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