You can't blame the woman for going Biblical. Where else could she seek an explanation or analogy worthy of all that has afflicted her?
The Good Book is stuffed with plague, pestilence and tribulation, much of it sent to test the mettle of mortals. Those singled out are burdened with spirit-sapping trials and misfortunes.
Lynn Dejac Peters is not overly religious, nor does she mean to be presumptuous. But the search for peace and understanding, after learning last month she has terminal cancer, led her inevitably to the story of Job – a rock of perseverance against all manner of suffering.
“I'm not sure what the plan is,” she told me Friday, in her South Buffalo home, “but I feel God is not done with me yet.”
Much of her life has been a nightmare. She was wrongly convicted in 1994 of murdering her 13-year-old daughter, Crystallynn. Despite her protests, prosecutors gave immunity to the likely killer, whom she casually dated. She served nearly 14 years in jail, stained with the brand of child-killer. Prison snatched newborn twins from her arms and separated her from a husband whose faith, despite her 25-year-sentence, never wavered.
Freed six years ago by unearthed DNA evidence, she then endured the tortuous legal maneuvering of unrepentant prosecutors and the reluctance, until last year, of state officials to grant her fair restitution. The $2.7 million compensation check – most of it going to lawyers and taxes – had not yet arrived when she felt a pain in her back. Tests last month confirmed Stage 4 lung cancer and a tumor on her spine. Barring a miracle, her time is short.
“It's one bad hand after another,” she said. “I never seem to catch a break.”
She is a small woman with a full face and a tough core. She had minutes earlier emerged from a bedroom of the house she shares with her husband, Chuck Peters, their teenaged kids and a border collie. Her legs were shaking from the spine tumor's pressure as she staggered towards a chair's safe landing. She is 49, her long straight hair going gray. There are trips to Roswell Park for chemotherapy and radiation treatment. On the table were two trays of pills, six to a serving, taken seven times a day.
“This is rougher,” she said, nodding towards her husband, “than anything we've ever done.”
It is easy to understand why she relates to Job. Her trials carry Biblical weight. She suffered the loss of her daughter, was wrongly blamed for the girl's death, was robbed of her prime years, was deprived of the chance to raise her infant twins and then – as the sun broke through the clouds – discovered she has a terminal illness.
Her litany of misfortune might be comically absurd, if it was not so soul-snatchingly tragic. How much can one person endure?
She never even got to take a trip with the “sorry about that” money the state granted her in return for 14 lost years.
“The only thing I can think of is God must be using me to send a message,” she said, her eyes filling. “He is trying to show people that if she can make it through everything, then whatever anyone else is going through, you can pull it together.”
From someone else, it would sound presumptuous. Given what she has gone through, it may be the logical spiritual conclusion. If there is a reason why the hand of fate keeps beating her, it perhaps lies in some larger purpose. No one deserves the trouble she has seen.
She believes she either will beat the cancer, or be reunited in the afterlife with her daughter. She basks in recent blessings – her name is cleared, she is reunited with family, there is money in hand. Indeed, she settled the loan on her 2008 Impala and – as a gift to her handyman husband – paid six months of bills in advance.
“[Chuck] always said that all he wanted out of life was having his bills paid and some money in the bank,” she recalled.
He got his wish. I wish her the strength to endure this latest trial. In the end, the woman who once was labeled a monster will serve as a model for the rest of us. There is more than a little justice in that and, I hope, a measure of peace.