When Gregory Orr was twelve years old, he killed his younger brother Peter in a hunting accident. He screamed, then he cried, but he got very little help with his grief and guilt, not then, not later. His identity and his brother’s seemed eventually to merge “into a single tangle,” the two of them “inextricable” in his thoughts.
Orr tells this story in The Blessing: A Memoir, which I mentioned in my previous post. (He was speaker at the Mennonite Writer/s VI conference in Harrisonburg, Virginia.) The difficulties and shame – the mark of Cain, as he saw it – that seized his life because of this event were compounded by his mother’s unexpected death when he was fourteen and his father, who was charming but unreliable and addicted to amphetamines.
Orr sought various ways through his despair, including involvement in the civil rights movement, with its potential martyrdom. This brought him no relief but nearly to the end of himself instead, and barely holding on. Continue reading