Cities of Refuge, Part 2

In my last post, I started writing about the Cities of Refuge, which provided safe havens for accidental killers/CADIs back in the biblical era (BCE or Old Testament days).  Although I am not conventionally religious, it means a lot to me that even God finds accidental killers like me deserving of asylum. You can read about them in the Book of Numbers, in Deuteronomy, and the book of Joshua.

The way it worked was that immediately after the incident, the accidental killer would flee to the city of refuge. If the victim’s relatives caught up with him before he reached the city, they could kill him with impunity. Once he got to the city, however, he was safe from revenge attacks. He would stay in the city until his trail before an assembly of elders.

If the assembly decided that the victim’s death was intended, the person was put to death for murder. If the assembly agreed that the death was unintentional, the accidental killer then returned to live in the city of refuge to live.

In order to stay safe, the accidental killer had to stay in the city of refuge until the High Priest in Jerusalem died. When the Priest died, the accidental killer could leave the city of refuge and return to his home, and anyone who attacked him in revenge would be punished. If he left before the High Priest died, however, he was on his own. A “blood-avenger” could murder him without consequence.

If my accident happened a few thousand years ago, though, I could have rushed away from the accident scene and found safety in a City of Refuge. Instead of struggling to put on a good face and move on, I could have stayed in the City to heal and to strengthen myself psychologically and spiritually.

I especially like the fact that the cities of refuge were not restricted to Israelites, but provided sanctuary to all accidental killers, citizen or alien. A civilized society, one that met God’s expectations, took care of those who unintentionally killed.

At first, there were just six cities of refuge, but eventually there were 48. That way, accidental killers had a good chance of reaching the city before any vengeful relatives or friends of the victim could catch up to him. To make sure the accidental killer could reach a city of refuge before the blood avenger overtook him, the roads leading to the cities were supposed to be twice as wide as a regular road, free of obstacles, and level so that the killer wouldn’t trip or turn his ankle. If the road passed over water, there had to be a good bridge. Clear signage was required at every crossroad, so the accidental killer would not get lost. The courts were responsible for making sure the road was kept in good repair and dispatching workers to fix any problems that might slow someone down.

Accidental killers were not allowed to leave the city of refuge for any reason and could not buy their freedom with ransom or bail money. Separation from friends, relatives, job, home, and all the places and activities that add up to one’s life must have been terribly lonely. Yet life inside the city was kind. The accidental killer’s immediate family typically accompanied him there. Rather than being relegated to a ghetto and shunned, the accidental killers took part in all aspects of community life. In fact, they could even receive honors and high office in the city. The Cities were medium sized – not so big that the blood avengers could sneak in unnoticed, and not so small that the blood avenger could storm in and overcome the residents. There had to be fresh water and there had to be markets, so the accidental killer could live without leaving the city. Certain trades were prohibited because they risked bringing blood avengers into the community – this included manufacturing glassware, textiles and ropes; the sale of arms and hunting tools was also prohibited.

Most of all, from my point of view, the safety of the city allowed the accidental killer to move beyond fear for his own survival to a deeper consideration of life, death, and personal responsibility. He had no choice about where to live, but inside the city he had other, more important choices. He could choose bitterness for being punished so harshly. Or he could choose acceptance and determine to honor his victim in the way he lived.

The commentaries I’ve read assume that, once the immediate risk of violence passed, accidental killers did not want to live in a city of refuge. Most Biblical scholars seems to consider life in the city to be a harsh punishment.

What these rabbis missed, in my opinion, was that at least some accidental killers might prefer to live in a City of Refuge. I sure would have. There, I could have received support from others who had been through similar experiences. I wouldn’t have been afraid of physical or verbal attacks. My accident would not have become a dark, painful secret. If I had been exiled to a City of Refuge, I might not have needed exile from myself.

 

 

 

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Cities of Refuge

After my accident, I tried to find solace in religion, but it just didn’t take. That changed when, quite by accident, I discovered that the old testament (or Torah) devotes considerable attention to the predicament of accident killers. I was floored when I learned that God instructed Moses to establish safe places — cities of refuge — for those who accidentally killed another person.  Even God finds CADI’s deserving of asylum. You can read about cities of refuge in Numbers, Deuteronomy, the book of Joshua, plus hundreds of pages of commentary. For instance, this is from Deuteronomy:

“Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: when you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you shall provide yourselves with places to serve you as cities of refuge to which a manslayer who has killed a person unintentionally may flee. The cities shall serve you as a refuge from the avenger, so that the manslayer may not die unless he has stood trial before the assembly.”

The chapter continues with a long description of the differences between accidental killing and murder. Someone who pushed or struck another man in hate or with the intention of killing him was a murderer. “But if he pushed him without malice aforethought or hurled any object at him unintentionally, or inadvertently dropped upon him any deadly object of stone, and death resulted – though he was not an enemy of his and did not seek his harm – in such cases the assembly shall decide between the slayer and blood-avenger.”

Once I learned about the cities of refuge, I spent hours reading about them. At first there were six cities of refuge – eventually there were over 40. Once an accidental killer reached a city of refuge, he was safe from revenge and attack. He would then stand trial; if the Assembly concluded that the killing was truly accidental, the person would remain safe inside the city of refuge. If they left the city, however, they would be vulnerable – the victim’s family could attack them with impunity. So, the accidental killer did face consequences for causing death, but could also be safe and welcomed into the community.

There are hundreds of pages of commentary and explanation about cities of refuge. Some of the rules are mysterious or at least ambiguous in intent – for instance, why did the bible specify that accidental killers could safely leave their city of refuge when the High Priest died, whether that happened one day or many decades after they arrived in the city?

In future blog posts, I will write more about how the cities of refuge worked. For now, I just want to say how much the notion of cities of refuge means to me. For one thing, it means that God (whoever that is or whatever that means) is kind to CADI’s. But “kind” does not mean that the accidental killer faces no consequences at all. In Biblical times, it meant they could live a full and rewarding life – but a different life than they led before the accident, characterized by deep awareness of the preciousness and fragility of life.

Thousands of years after the cities of refuge were established, I seek to create my own city of refuge in my home and community. I do not ever want to forget – I can never forget – the child that ran in front of my car and was killed. I want to honor him in the choices I make, including the choice to be kind to myself.

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Self-Blame

A few weeks ago a friend came upstairs with me so I could show her something on my computer. On the way downstairs, she was ahead of me, so I did not see her fall — all of a sudden, she was on the floor at the foot of the stairs, trying not to cry but in obvious pain. I helped her over to the couch, put ice packs on her knees, and together we took inventory and determined that she did not need to go to the emergency room. Instead, I drove her home when she felt able to get up and made sure she got inside safely.

By the time I returned home the familiar refrain had begun. What had I done? Did I accidentally injure my friend? Was I to blame for her fall? I had to remind myself that the stairway was well lit and clear of obstacles, and that neither my dog nor I were close enough to trip her. Still, I worried that I had done something wrong. I’m not proud of the fact that I also worried that she might blame me. Would she suggest that my stairs were slippery or that my dog got underfoot?

My friend did not blame me; she went out of her way to remind me that she has a bad knee, which probably gave out as she was walking downstairs. She was injured, though — she broke a bone in her foot and must wear a heavy and uncomfortable therapeautic boot for the next few weeks.

I consider this preoccupation with blame, and my tendency to blame myself for anything bad that happens to anyone around me, to be a legacy of my long-ago car accident.  A child ran in front of my car — I wasn’t speeding or distracted, I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it was my car that hit him; I bear a measure of responsibility even though I wasn’t at fault.

For years, I secretly thought I carried some darkness inside me that caused bad things to happen to other people. Why did that child run in front of my car and not some other car? Might another driver have been able to swerve and avoid the accident? These are questions without answers.

I am a scientist — I know the idea that I have a dangerous “vibe” or essence is ludicrous, but I believed it for a long time and still have to guard against these thought patterns. I also know that such ideas might serve me in some way. For instance, the notion that I am a dangerous person reminds me to be especially careful, to minimize the chances of future accidents. Also, accidents demonstrate that people have far less control over the world than we generally like to believe. It’s scary to acknowledge how much I cannot control. When I blame myself, at least I give myself back a measure of personal power and control.

Instead of ruminating about my friend’s accident and my role in it, I am trying to simply be a good friend to her — help her out around the house, walk her dog, listen with caring when she complains about the discomfort of the boot she must wear and how much she misses going to the gym. I couldn’t prevent her from falling, but I can control how I respond to her accident, so that is what I choose to focus on.

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A note about lawyers

I often hear some version of the following question from CADIs shortly after their accident: “I don’t need a lawyer, do I?” I am not a legal expert, and the circumstances of the accident matter tremendously, but I generally advise consulting a lawyer sooner rather than later.

This advice often leads to disagreement. “If I get a lawyer, it’s like an admission of guilt,” or “My insurance company said their lawyer will represent me,” or, “If the victim’s family finds out I have a lawyer, they’ll be even angrier and that will make everything worse,” or, “I’d rather wait and see what happens. I’ll get a lawyer if I get arrested (or sued).” And, consulting a lawyer means you’ll have to tell the whole horrible story to a near-stranger, and that can feel overwhelming.  And, of course, lawyers cost money.

I still recommend consulting a attorney. Doing so does not mean you’re guilty, it means you recognize that you have landed in a very complicated situation, that the consequences for you and your family can be serious, and that you may not be thinking very clearly in the midst of this trauma.  A lawyer can help you in a variety of ways — by providing information, for example, about the accident investigation and possible consequences, by advising you on how to respond, and, if necessary, by representing you if you are charged with a crime or sued. A lawyer assigned by your insurance company can do some of this — but at the end of the day, that lawyer is working for the insurance company, not for you, and there may be times when your interests will diverge.

It’s important to find a lawyer that will listen to you and consult you at critical junctures.  For example, you should talk with your lawyer about whether or how to negotiate a financial settlement. Some lawyers will advise you not to express any words of apology, since that could be interpreted as an admission of responsibility. On the other hand, some lawyers will help convey such messages if the victim or his/her family are open to receiving them.  Some lawyers are knowledgeable about “restorative justice,” in which alternatives to financial settlements and/or jail time are considered, such as public service.  If finding the right lawyer feels overwhelming, you can ask a friend or family member for help — they want to support you and might welcome an opportunity to hear from an attorney.

Keep in mind that the victim’s family is also traumatized and their thinking will evolve. I know of situations in which, months later (but before the statute of limitations expired), lawsuits were filed, even though this seemed very unlikely in the weeks immediately following the accident.

In short, my attitude is that it is better to consult an attorney and find out later you didn’t need the help than to not have an attorney and find out later you did need the help.

Have you had good or bad experiences with lawyers? Write and tell me about it. Thank you, and take care.

 

 

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For Family & Friends Who Want to Offer Support

Many of the people who contact me have not personally been involved in an accident, but are concerned about a friend or relative who was.  They want to know how to help. Here are a few tips.

First, I do not recommend pushing the individual to talk about the accident. If he or she wants to tell you what happened, you can listen with compassion and support. If he’s not ready, that’s okay. If you think your friend wants to talk, but is concerned about upsetting you, signal your readiness to listen without judgment, or offer a referral to a therapist or counselor trained to deal with trauma. Other well-meaning advice that is not always helpful — “You have to get back behind the wheel as soon as possible,” “You should resume your daily routine as soon as possible,” “You need to let your feelings out,” “Let me give you a sleeping pill (or buy you a drink),” “I don’t believe in true accidents — this must have happened for some reason.”  My advice — be careful with advice!

Second, offer tangible assistance. Let your friend know that you are available to help with transportation, baby-sitting, and errands. Bring a meal over. The routine chores of life can feel overwhelming after a serious accident. It may even be helpful to — gently — offer to accompany your friend to a lawyer’s or doctor’s office, since your friend may find that memory and analytical abilities are worse than usual.

Third, if your friend was drinking or otherwise impaired at the time of the accident, this is the time to encourage him or her to seek treatment. You might want to consult with a therapist or addiction specialist about how to approach this. While it’s important to offer love and support, it’s equally important not to collude in denying a serious problem.

Finally, let your friend or relative know that you love him/her and that the accident doesn’t change your feelings for them. You can do this verbally, in a note, or with a big hug.

Please comment– what did you say or do that was most helpful to the person in your life who caused an accident? And, for CADIs reading this, what did friends and family members offer after the accident that was most helpful to you?

 

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Welcome

January 22, 2014

Welcome to the website and blog for CADIs — those of us who have caused accidental death or injury. Many CADIs feel very alone, but the truth is there are many, many thousands of us. Social isolation plus a lack of good information and support made it much harder for me to cope after my accident. This website is one small attempt to spare others some of the fear, confusion, and loneliness I felt.

I hope readers will write in with their comments, suggestions, stories, and ideas. What has been most helpful to you, or to other CADIs you know? What advice would you offer a friend who accidentally injured or killed someone in a car crash, workplace accident, or sports-related accident? I will add your recommendations to the site, so we can together improve the resources available to CADIs.

If you are a CADI — please reach out for help. If you are a friend or family member of a CADI, thank you for caring. I look forward to hearing from you.

With hope,

Maryann

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