Tuesday, August 25, 2015

People are basically good

 We are constantly being bombarded with horrible events from around the world; crime, wars and senseless acts of violence have become a sadly predictable part of the evening news.  Unfortunately, these terrible events are so commonplace that we barely have time to reflect on one tragedy before we are presented with a new one.  But each of these awful occurrences results in shocked and grieving people who must somehow put their lives back together.  The book The Rising takes an in-depth look at one man who survived a horrific home invasion and how he was able to heal and continue on with his life.

In July 2007, Dr. Bill Petit was awakened in the middle of the night as he was being beaten over the head with a baseball bat.  Two intruders had broken in and immediately immobilized him and his family.  He was tied up in the basement, while his wife and two daughters were tied up in their rooms upstairs.  His wife was later taken to a bank and ordered to withdraw money.  She was able to alert bank employees to the situation and the police were notified.  Dr. Petit was able to escape and run to a neighbor's house to ask for help.  Unfortunately, while the police were deciding on how best to handle the situation, the intruders were able to kill Mrs. Petit and set the house on fire, which resulted in the deaths of the two daughters as well.  Since the police had been alerted, they were able to catch the criminals as they fled the crime scene.

Dr. Petit was left completely devastated.  He'd lost his family, his home, and due to lingering medical problems from his injuries, was no longer able to practice medicine.  The book chronicles his journey from those awful days after the murders, through the trials of the two perpetrators, and on to his life since both men were sentenced to death.

The book gives a lot of background on Dr. Petit's early life, including his close-knit family and how he met his wife, Jennifer.  Jennifer was a nurse and a very kind and generous woman.  Even after she was diagnosed with MS, she continued on with work and raising her family.  Daughter Hayley had just graduated from high school and was looking forward to a summer of hanging out with friends before heading off to Dartmouth in the fall. Younger daughter Michaela had just finished fifth grade.  They were a typical loving, close family who had no idea that evil was lurking outside their home.

Dr. Petit, as the lone survivor, naturally dealt with guilt at not being able to save his family.  He moved back in with his parents and tried to figure out how to live without his wife and kids.  This is when his assertion that "people are basically good" was reinforced.  Cards, letters and money poured in from around the world.  People had heard of his terrible story and wanted to offer their sympathy and do what they could to help.  Local friends and neighbors inundated the family with offers of help, free airplane transportation, clothing and whatever else they could do to help.  Sitting down and replying to each letter personally (with the help of his family) initially gave Dr. Petit something to focus on and helped him through the most awful time of his life.  So much money was donated that he started the Petit Family Foundation, dedicated to supporting the education of women in the sciences, helping those with chronic illnesses, and protecting victims of violence.  Working with the foundation also gave him something to focus on.

It took three years before the first defendant was tried, and Dr. Petit attended every day of the trial.  He had to hear the awful details of what his family went through.  After that trial was over, he had to do it all again for the second defendant.  At least there was some justice when both men were sentenced to death.

In the years since losing his family, Dr. Petit has found love again.  He married Christine, a photographer and marketing director and they had a son.  The most amazing thing about the story is how Dr. Petit hasn't lost his faith in the overall goodness of society and his belief that most people are good.  It's sad that his faith in this goodness had to be tested in such a cruel and terrible way.  It was fascinating to read about how he was able to get through such an unimaginable and horrific event and to continue to live a life which honors and pays tribute to his lost loved ones.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Rising from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

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