“There is a great deal of wickedness in village life.”
If you’ve read any of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries, you know that this line (or some facsimile) will appear in each of her stories. Miss Marple lived in the fictional village of St Mary Mead and used the human behaviors she observed there to solve mysteries everywhere she went. Seriously, if you were at a house party and Jane Marple showed up, either get ready for fireworks or run for your life. Somebody was going to wake up dead soon and this sweet, little, old lady was going to unassumingly solve the murder using examples from village life.
On the way to visit my daddy this weekend, I drove through the very real community of Darden, TN. Darden is a wide spot in the road, really. In 2010, the unincorporated community’s population was 399. One of those inhabitants was a young woman named Holly Bobo, a pretty, young, nursing student. At just before 8 AM on April 13th of 2011, she was abducted from right outside her home. Darden and nearby Parsons, TN, were quickly covered in pink ribbons and requests to “Pray for Holly” and “Bring Holly Home.” That is, until September 8th of 2014 when hunters found her skull. Green has been added to the ribbons in the Decatur county communities with the demand of “Justice for Holly.”
This woman lived in a “safe” place, the kind of place where river stages and notices for lost and found dogs are read over the radio. She lived in a village, yet she was raped and murdered no differently than women who live in Detroit, in New Orleans, or in any other city we think of as “dangerous.” Her one life was taken, not by some traveler from the Evil Big City, but by men from Holladay, TN, another wide spot in the road, less than 25 miles from Darden.
Generally, we Americans like to believe in the myth of Mayberry and Pleasantville. We want to believe that there is somewhere fresh and unspoiled. We want to believe that there is some innocent place somewhere, if we could only find it.
It doesn’t exist because evil doesn’t exist in a postal code; it exists in the hearts of men. It lives in all of our hearts; so, it lives wherever we are. It exists regardless of how many of us are in a city, a country or even in a wide spot in the road. When Robinson Crusoe was alone on the island, wickedness was there.
But so was goodness.
It was goodness that lead hundreds of people, including my father, to search the woods for Holly following her disappearance. For weeks, total strangers gathered to search on the ground and even from the sky. (I know a man who took his light sport aircraft to join the search.) Ultimately, it was as many locals had predicted in the hilly, wooded region, two hunters stumbled on her remains.
As I drove through the ribbon bedecked area on Saturday, I couldn’t help but grieve for what was lost there. It wasn’t innocence since the evil was surely already there; but, it was the loss of the illusion of it. Maybe it’s safer for us all if we know and acknowledge the danger all around.
Safer for us or not, it’s still a sad thing to release the myth and acknowledge the wickedness surrounding us all.