Scene of the Crime


 by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

It is well-known even among those who are not forensic specialists that a criminal is drawn to the scene of the crime after the fact. Something there is about the heightened adrenalin which so frequently accompanies a radical exploit that one is inexplicably summoned to revisit the place where it transpired, as though one were capable of re-enlisting the historic events, recapturing the rush. On the other hand it may be just an overwhelming desire to consume as much detail of the place as possible on the assumption that the fleeting occurrence of the original deed eclipsed those erstwhile minutiae. In its most essential context it may be no more significant than visiting the place where one was born – mere curiosity. On the balance however I am inclined to stamp the obsession as more nefarious than a thirst for knowledge.

Perhaps it is easier to gain an insight into this peculiar behaviour when one considers that re-living any moment of singularity – whether one of elation, despondency or otherwise – is not especially uncommon. A victory for example may be particularly compelling. To re-enact the moments leading up to the win (whatever the forum) can be irresistible. Often these dramatic events in our lives occur so quickly that we only attempt to slow their assimilation by rewinding them, sometimes monotonously (though always to our continuing advantage).

Generally speaking however it is not considered sound to dwell upon the past, good or bad. The absorption can nurture unhealthy preoccupations from which it may become more and more difficult to withdraw. Playing back a particularly fierce argument, for example, with one’s friend or spouse may be a dead-end street calculated only to re-open the wound and foster further unspoken odium.

The unusual feature of savouring a particularly emotional moment is that, unlike feasting, one can seemingly never get enough of it. It is oddly an almost insatiable appetite, all the more so by virtue of the frothiness of the original motivating cause. But just as the criminal should be forewarned about returning to the scene of the crime to avoid incrimination, so too must any one of us be chary of re-living any other unpleasantness. The result in every case is nothing but accessorial contamination.

What it takes to synthesize an experience is time and distance. Repositioning oneself in the original discourse does nothing to advance the process. It is advisable to keep in mind that the thrill (or disgust) of the initial occurrence can never be recaptured. Once the event has exhausted itself the mute button is on. To avoid getting on with things is rather like the man who tries to sleep with a pack-sack on his back; the effort is completely encumbered. At first we may be reluctant to let go of the strings which connect us to the past – whatever it is – but there will be no advancement until we do. As much as we may have been stunned by the randomness and unexpected consequence of a circumstance, re-hashing it will change nothing. I have this notion that it is far more mature to abandon nastiness and to opt instead for a livelier horizon. In a word, foreclose the scene of the crime.