How does madness take over?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 6, 2013

When does madness take over a life? At what point does the mind slip so deeply into its own imaginings that it is beyond reach? How does a person move so far from the light that only darkness fills the heart?

Those are my questions about the man who first took the life of another person and then not only held a child but also his mother and an entire community hostage for seven days. When did madness become his way of being?

From all indications, there were signs that Jimmy Lee Dykes was disturbed. The way he lived and his actions toward neighbors were surely evidence of his darkness. Folks knew he was different and it appears they mostly tried to stay out of his way.

I listened when people talked about his odd behavior. We’ve seen these kinds of “quirky” people, the ones who live among us but seemingly outside the reality going on around them.

Odd, that’s how we describe them. Sometimes the word paranoid slips into the description. And often, crazy is what we say when we speak of them, and we want nothing to do with crazy.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not saying there is anything that excuses this man’s actions. I just wonder how a person gets to a place where the course this man took made any kind of sense to him.

Was there a point in the life of this troubled soul where some kind of intervention might have changed his course? Is there anything to do with, or for, people when they display signs of being mentally unstable? What, if anything, do we do about quirky people who become more frightening than quirky? I don’t have answers just lots of questions.

Hearing news updates over the past week, I thought about the boy and how this was affecting him. Being the mother of a child with autism, I know these children need routine and when they don’t have it, it can bring on a major meltdown.

Would someone so troubled as Dykes handle a meltdown without reacting with violence toward the child? What was passing between this man and this child all those hours alone in that tiny space? The thought frightened me for the little boy.

Apparently, the kidnapper allowed the boy some of the things he needed to keep him satisfied, but I knew in my heart that the standoff could not continue. Every day it was clearer that this man was not in touch with reality, and more time was probably not going to move him any closer to it.

Yesterday when I heard the hostage situation was over, that the child was fine and reunited with his mother, I breathed a sigh of relief. I think all of Alabama and people in other places who watched this unfold did the same.

Actions have consequences. Violent actions return violent reactions. In the end, that is what happened to Jimmy Lee Dykes. His actions left few options open to those trying desperately to keep a child safe.

Now that it is over, the attention of the world will go to another place, perhaps to another tragic story. But for a small town in South Alabama it will be a long time before life feels normal again.

There is still sorrow over the loss a fine man who gave his life on a school bus protecting the children entrusted to his care. For the families of the children on the bus that frightening day, it will take time to get past the fear. And for the child held captive … what do the days ahead hold as he and his family put the pieces of their lives back together?

All of this happened because of one man’s slide into madness, into darkness and the imaginings of his own mind. So again, I ask; how does a person move so far from the light that only darkness fills the heart?