By Roger A. Canaff
As I write this, only a few hours have passed since Isaiah Kalebu was sentenced by a judge in a Seattle courtroom to life without parole for the 2009 burglary, rape and murder involving Teresa Butz and her partner Jen Hopper. Ms Hopper wrote one of the most moving pieces I’ve ever seen on what she’s been through and what she has faced as today’s date— August 12, 2011— has approached. Her grace, courage and profound humanity shine through every line, and I found myself close to tears for conflicting reasons as I read her words.
I’m good at being conflicted. The last time I wrote about Teresa Butz, the woman who died saving the life of her partner and would-be wife in a horrific rape-murder that took place their home in 2009, I was struggling with faith. It had been going on for some time, drawn out by the unfortunate attribute God has of not arguing back at me. I am left to shake my fist at Him and get only blank silence in return. I’m hardly the first or last to experience it, but it’s frustrating to be so pathetically mortal and to want to understand this Being Whose will seems so capricious and inscrutable.
And then the blessed gesture that is the Angel Band Project, the musical tribute to Teresa by her remarkably talented family and loved ones, emerged and prodded me back toward believing in an ordered universe, albeit one with a seriously incomprehensible order. I’m grateful for that prodding, because I needed it then and need it still now. And I stand in awe of Jen Hopper, the Butz family, the defendant’s mother, the involved professionals from the cops to the jurors, and everyone who endured the immense suffering that was the entire case of The State of Washington v. Isaiah Kalebu.
But still, I must confess that I am profoundly troubled by what I suspect at times might be some perverse and insane cosmic attraction between the most pathological things in the spinning universe and the most angelic. I don’t know how else to put it, but there is something beyond sick and sad about the collision of Isaiah Kalebu and two people like Teresa Butz and Jen Hopper. There is something dreadful and almost eerily fated about it— as if the God we desperately depend on to temper the chaos of things is really an impish child with a wild mean streak who is actually ordering things in reverse.
Maybe it’s just my selective perception, but I have worked with victims of the most egregious violence who were the most decent, kind and undeserving souls (not that anyone is deserving) of what happened to them. Or, maybe the ordeal of survival, in some darkly logical way, draws forth extraordinary humanity and grace from the process itself. I don’t know what it is, but it seems to me on so many levels that, in a truly elegant universe, the love and life force, the deep humanity, the laughing, loving essence of a couple like Jen and Teresa would simply never co-exist with the monstrous pathology of Isaiah Kalebu.
And yet he found their bathroom window on a quiet summer night in an otherwise safe, comfortable neighborhood.
He then ripped a gaping hole in anything that would resemble a God-protected world. He blasted a crater of despair, shock and utter agony that rippled through entire families, forever wounding them and the wider world beyond it. It can’t be possible for a single person- a pathetic failure at that- to wield that kind of power out of pure malevolence. But human history has literally been shaped as often as not with exactly that scenario.
So the unspeakable question then creeps in on the raw edges of my thoughts as I try to sleep. Is this the way it happens? Is there some miserable ying-yang that exists to flat-out impede the forward progress in the world that a couple like Teresa and Jen frankly embodied? I don’t know. I’ll never know- not in this life. And maybe I need to reflect more on what I’ve already celebrated— the beauty of Angel Band, the resilience of Jen Hopper, the Butz family and everyone involved. That, God willing, is where the balance lies for an evil act like what happened on 7/19/09.
But Christ, I wish none of this had happened.
For some odd reason, I was most affected- positively and negatively- when I read in Ms. Hopper’s piece that she has a new girlfriend. I don't know why— it's so beautiful and yet so sad at the same time. It's exactly what should happen and what does happen as life moves us all through its brutal corridors, of course. And yet it signals to me an even more final end to Jen and Teresa than what took place on 7/19/09. I guess it’s really a mourning of the third victim of that miserable night: It’s the victim that was the relationship and love affair the two of them had; a thing that was, as all great things are, much more than the sum of its parts.
Springsteen once wrote that “everything dies baby, that’s a fact. But maybe everything that dies, someday comes back.”
So maybe that’s it. What Jen is forging now, personally and professionally, what Angel Band is creating, what fight-the-fear campaign is inspiring, what Voices and Faces is doing, maybe these are the life-forces that Teresa gave her life for. Maybe these efforts and advances are the beautiful, defiant thrust toward sanity that restores the balance and ultimately rights the wrongs.
I hope that’s the case. And I guess if I still hope, then all is not lost.
Blog: WCSV (Women, Children, Sex, Violence: Outcry, Analysis, Discussion)