Why do bad things happen? Why do bad things happen to good people?
It is a Gordion knot we are unable to cut; there is no bold solution to this complicated problem.
In an admirable attempt and raw moment of contemplation, Dr. Robert Hill, dean of Marsh Chapel, Boston University, tells the story of Joan Humphrey Lefkow who grew up on a farm in Kansas.
She was born, the third of four children, to Donna and Jake Humphrey. The Humphrey farm of 480 acres, near Woodlawn Kansas, raised cattle and crops. Joan attended a one room school there until the eighth grade. She was a cheerleader at Sabetha High School. She also was an officer in her school’s chapter of ‘Future Homemakers of America’. She graduated second in her class. A class of 48. Here is the caption under her yearbook picture: “keen sense, commonsense, no room for nonsense”.
Joan then attended Wheaton College, because her pastor was a graduate. Later on, she entered law school at Northwestern University. Her classmates there teased her about her slow prairie speech. They also envied her lack of stress over exams. In law school she met a boy named Michael. They worked summer jobs on behalf of the poor: disability benefits, evictions, food stamps.
Joan and Michael were married in 1975. He wore a white suit. She wore daisies in her hair, and a white Moroccan caftan. Joan and Michael then began to raise their own family of four daughters. Every morning, he brewed coffee. He pre-heated her cup with boiling water, filled it with coffee, and carried it to the bed where together they could talk about the day to come.
Joan’s life had two paradigms, professional woman and devoted mother. She cooked dinner every night. She established a daycare center in the courthouse where she worked. She packed lunches for four daughters, making sure to use Tropicana orange juice to limit the girls’ sugar intake. The newspaper quoted Joan as saying, “I wanted my family to be a family that shared their food and the mom could cook like my mom could cook.”
Joan’s temperament and industry brought her, over some years, to the federal bench. She became a judge in the US District Court in Chicago. It was the culmination of a fine career, a position that had eluded her on other occasions. But, after a few years…