Did I Just Say That?

Do you ever hear words emanating from your lips, and instantly while the words break from your mouth you think, “Did I really just say that??” You are still in the nanosecond of surprise, when you discover you probably have a small list of sentences or phrases you could never have imagined uttering. If you look back on those experiences that were the catalysts for such words, you notice a powerful tapestry – threads that make life sometimes unbearable and yet at other times so amazingly awe-inspiring – and everything in between.

On Easter Sunday, a friend whom I care about deeply shot a police officer. In my lifetime I never thought I’d say this, “My friend shot a cop.” I have known her for more than two decades. I have been her friend, mentor, sister, 12 step sponsor, and at times the biggest pain in her butt. Sadly, life has not been kind to her the past few years, and she is back into the nightmare of addiction.

I realized just how much there is to learn when you find yourself in the care-giving role for someone who will be behind bars for decades.

Yep, I said it, “My friend shot a cop.” She is in what I can only imagine the darkest moments of her life… she shot a state trooper, and sits in solitary confinement – likely in prison for the rest of her life.

After the cloud of shock lifted, I then proceeded to set up a phone account so she could call me. With this simple act I realized just how much there is to learn when you find yourself in the care-giving role for someone who will be behind bars for decades. It does require me to think like those on the inside – to some degree -which means tapping into resources who know more than I do about being a productive member of society. Mind you it’s a society I’ve never been a part of, nor has she, and not only that, I realize that I rarely wonder about this society – life on the inside.

Of course, I find more things I never thought I’d say, or think. It’s the nature of the beast when worlds collide. At the end of the online process of setting up the phone account a “Thank You” page pops up. It reads, “…your account has been set up and you can now connect more easily with your incarcerated loved one.” I read the words out loud: “incarcerated loved one.” And there it is… again. Staring me in the face are more words I never thought I’d say. I have an incarcerated loved one. Sigh.

When I got the call about what had happened I searched the internet for information, and landed on the state police Facebook page, which had a press release about the shooting. What I did not expect was the more than 700 comments from people all expressing the same sentiment – let her fry. One comment after another saying it was unfortunate there wasn’t a death penalty, and she should rot in jail. Other people complained about their tax money going to pay for food and cable TV to house this demon of a woman for the next 30 years. There was name calling, death threats, callousness and sarcasm. Essentially I was witnessing a little corner of the world riddled with anger and hate. To say my heart was broken is an understatement.

While I wept at the level of hate on Facebook, and the shock of hearing words I never thought I’d say, I also wept for the soul pain someone must be experiencing, probably unconsciously, to say things that are the antithesis of my own credo – all life is sacred, all life is worthy of compassion. It’s a tough credo to live, but these times we live in are calling us to be a little uncomfortable, to sacrifice a little here and there so that the world is a little bit kinder. It’s easy to be spiritual in a cave, but what does my most noble self tell me to do in times of anger, hate and violence, especially when it’s in my own backyard? It tells me to move outside my comfort zone and BE that which I long to know.

I have no illusions about what she did, I don’t excuse or condone it. I recognize the insane violence of it all, and she will suffer the consequences – as it should be. Yet at the same time, it is not possible for me to ignore the mercy alive within me, this is what my faith tells me. It is not my job to think that this person deserves to be seen as the Christ, but NOT that person over there. Faith by its very nature is paradoxical. Can I see a person who has done such evil acts deserving something less than mercy and compassion, while still knowing the voice of justice is every bit as relevant? If I believe this, REALLY believe it, then I must demonstrate it and so I must extend the same to those on Facebook who wished my friend dead or believe she should experience a lifetime of pain and misery.

Can I see a person who has done such evil acts deserving something less than mercy and compassion, while still knowing the voice of justice is every bit as relevant?

A couple years ago I was gravely ill, and while on life support I danced through the veil between life and death and it left me permanently altered – I could see into the worlds of those most unlike me. About a year ago, when I sat having coffee with a white nationalist in a peacemaking effort, I found myself saying, “Yes, I value that too,” as he spoke about the importance of the love of his family. This was one of those times when I never imagined I would utter those words in that scenario. Yet how often have we heard the words “love your neighbor?” If I REALLY believe that, then I MUST demonstrate it if there is any hope of healing the pain, hate and violence we see around us.

It’s time to add to our list of “surprising things I never thought I’d say in this lifetime” with words that build up life and restore the inherent goodness always present, yet oftentimes hidden. Words that are a result of moving beyond our comfort zone. I know this isn’t easy to do and it doesn’t necessarily feel good, but I’m not sure anyone ever told me the spiritual practice of loving your neighbor was either one of those things.

If we believe we are made in the image and likeness of God, with all the potential to be the Christ here on earth, then what does that mean if we aren’t willing to BE that image and likeness? Think about it – but not for too long – there is much healing to be done so that we each may find ourselves thinking “did I just say that?” as a healing presence with a smiling heart of mercy, compassion and generosity of spirit when it seems impossible.

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