I don’t usually write about subjects like Laura Bush’s personal life, but the N.Y. Times report on her new book struck me as particularly banal and troubling in terms of how she views the way God should work in the world.
When she was a teenager, she caused an auto accident that killed a popular student athlete in her high school. On her way to a drive-in movie with a high-school friend, she was chatting away and ran a stop sign. Her car plowed into the boy’s and killed him. Here’s how she describes the accident:
“In those awful seconds, the car door must have been flung open by the impact and my body rose in the air until gravity took over and I was pulled, hard and fast, back to earth,” she says. “The whole time,” she adds later, “I was praying that the person in the other car was alive. In my mind, I was calling ‘Please, God. Please, God. Please, God,’ over and over and over again.”
…“I lost my faith that November, lost it for many, many years,” she says. “It was the first time that I had prayed to God for something, begged him for something, not the simple childhood wishing on a star but humbly begging for another human life. And it was as if no one heard. My begging, to my seventeen-year-old mind, had made no difference. The only answer was the sound of Mrs. Douglas’s sobs on the other side of that thin emergency room curtain.”
As I read this Christian view of divine providence I compare it unfavorably with Judaism, which does not posit divine intercession on behalf of individuals (though I’m sure one can find a few instances of it in the tradition if one looked hard enough). God doesn’t do personal favors. God cares about and for His creation, but not for specific souls who seek miracles and the like.
What also struck me about Bush’s thinking was that she caused an accident which killed someone and instead of confronting that on a personal level she finds some way to put the blame on God for not doing what she should’ve done in the first place, which was to avoid the accident.
Let me be clear, every one of us who drive understand that there but for the grace of God could we go. We know how easy it would be to cause such an accident with the power of a motor vehicle at our fingertips. So I’m not blaming Laura Bush for what she did. But I am criticizing the way in which she responded in the aftermath.
Also, I understand that as a teenager, she may not have been fully capable of dealing with her own personal guilt. So putting it off on God is a way of avoiding some of the crushing burden that befalls the perpetrator. Further, Bush is describing her youthful response to the tragedy and not her adult perspective in retrospect. One hopes there is more maturity and complexity in the way she looks at things now.
But given this I wonder:
Mrs. Bush concedes that she and her friend were chatting when she ran the stop sign. But she also suggests a host of factors beyond her control played a role — the pitch-black road, an unusually dangerous intersection, the small size of the stop sign, and the car the victim was driving.
“It was sporty and sleek, and it was also the car that Ralph Nader made famous in his book Unsafe at Any Speed,” she states. “He claimed the car was unstable and prone to rollover accidents. A few years later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration went so far as to investigate the Corvair’s handling, but it didn’t reach the same grim conclusions.
Once again, more diversions from personal responsibility. And if you think about George Bush’s own record, it is replete with such incidents in which he witnessed tragedy, failed to respond competently, and then blamed everyone and everything but himself for the result (Katrina, Iraq, etc.).
Finally, the way in which her parent’s shielded her from what she had done also troubles:
Mrs. Bush reveals that she was wracked by guilt for years after the crash, especially after not attending the funeral and for not reaching out to the parents of the dead teenager. Her parents did not want her to show up at the funeral, she states, and she ended up sleeping through it.
Imagine what a psychiatrist would say about someone sleeping through such a momentous event. And I understand the urge of parent’s to protect their child in such circumstances, but are they really doing her a favor by not allowing her to confront her own grief and that of the rest of the community? Were they really protecting her by shielding her from contact with the victim’s parents? I understand that these are hard questions and it is hard to blame anyone for doing what Bush’s parents did. But there are very real consequences for doing what they did. And I don’t think ultimately you do a child any favors by walling her off in a cocoon.
During the Bush presidency we all thought so poorly of him that we were eager to believe she possessed a humanity and compassion that he lacked. But given what I read here, I wonder.
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- Laura Bush Opens Up About Fatal Crash (nytimes.com)