Today I read of a 68 year-old great-grandmother who made fresh pita bread for her family for supper, then left the house, strapped on a suicide belt, approached a group of Israeli soldiers, and blew herself up.

I can’t get this woman off my mind. I want to understand her. I want to be able to comprehend what it is that leads a person to do that. It seems important to me to be able to understand the tipping point for her. Maybe if I understand her, I can honour her in some way. Maybe if I understand her, both her pain and her hope can have more meaning than what seems like just a wasted death.

What darkness creeps into your soul and eats away at you until you are convinced that blowing yourself and others to bits is worth the pain and heart-ache you will cause your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren? Did she become obsessed with revenge, or did she really think she was contributing to a solution? If it was revenge, was it the loss of her grandson and the crippling of another? The injury and imprisonment of her three sons? The destruction of her home? Or the deep sorrow she felt after witnessing a massacre?

If she had loftier visions of helping to resolve the conflict, did she envision that the death of a 68 year-old grandmother would be a powerful wake-up call for the warring factions and those who stand by as witnesses?

Each of the things she had to endure is painful, and together they seem almost incomprehensible in their tragedy. It’s not hard to understand her anger and desire for revenge. But I just can’t quite get past the fact that, by avenging the pain she’d seen and suffered, she caused even more pain for all the people who loved her. You’d think that would have stopped her from pulling the pin.

Surely she knew how hard it would be to swallow her last offering of pita bread after they’d learned of the offering of her life.

Or perhaps the pain had buried her in its rubble, destroyed her capacity for reason, and rendered her only a shell of the grandma she wanted to be. Perhaps she thought the future for her family looked brighter without her bitterness and anger tainting their every waking hour.

On the other hand, maybe she was thinking clearly and knew the pain she’d cause, but she felt a strong calling from God to offer herself as a sacrifice. Perhaps, in the depths of her faith, she believed that this was what she’d been put on this earth to do.

Putting aside the complicated middle east politics that I don’t pretend to comprehend, I’m not sure whether to think of her as a hero for being willing to sacrifice her own life, or a coward and a fool for not sticking around for her family. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between.

Given the same set of circumstances, would any of us do the same?

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