This is not a note about Bishop Heather Cook. There are lots of comments about her being bishop and whether or not she was reasonably vetted before the election, about addiction and recovery, and about responsibility for leaving the scene of an accident, the accident itself, and other actions.
That way leads to the exploration of who is responsible and for what. But too that way leads to a variety of blame games. That way leads to the titillation of catching a “church leader” or the “first woman bishop in Maryland” in trouble. The internet world and the newshounds have had a fine time exploring “Bishop Cook” issues. And there is enough of that to go around. “Bad Bishop Cook” and “bad ecclesiastical decisions” are both bait for the hooks in the news feeding frenzy that the whole matter has become.
This is not a note about the cyclist, Thomas Palermo. There is a lot written about him, and about how good a person and a cyclist he was. And he was. There is a lot of grieving and considerable anger about his death.
This is a note about Heather Cook the human being, who comes from a long line of human beings related in turn to a whole host of living beings who when confronted with extraordinary threat reacts in ways not always up to frontal lobe human ethical standards.
When we are threatened by appalling realities (and sudden crash, accident and death qualify) the startling rush of body response can lead to a variety of responses, sometimes referred to as fight, flight or freeze, none of which are thought out moral and rational actions, but rather more primal.
A lot has been written about her leaving the scene of the accident, how far she went, why she stopped, and why she returned to the accident scene. These comments have been about the rational and moral actions of Heather Cook, who as a thinking human being, and particularly as a bishop ought to be clearly moral and rational. The “bishop thing” keeps creeping in.
Morally and rationally, and legally she was wrong to have left the scene of the accident. It lends speculative support to the notion that she had done something wrong at the time of the accident and that it was not an accident without fault or blame, and that she knew it. Further by leaving she left the victim without whatever aid she might have offered. That all may be true, but we don’t know it now. We will see.
But Heather Cook, the human being, shares with all of us a lot of reactive behaviors that are unrelated to our rational or moral selves, or our training in moral or rational action. Those do not make the news more interesting, nor do they excuse her higher level rational behavior. But those behaviors are there and we don’t quite know what to make of that reality – that we sometimes respond in immediate ways that are not particularly cognitive, and that those reactions include a variety of angers, avoidances and emotional shutdowns.
We are left doing the more rational and moral things we do when sudden and strange death comes. We grieve for Thomas Palermo’s death and for his family, for Heather Cook in her distress, and for an accounting that is true to the realities of what happened, and to accountability where it lies. And we pray for all.
Yet perhaps too in all of this, they and we are creatures of deeply ingrained responses, and likely to act before we reason. And how do we pray for ourselves or others as reactive beings?