Theme: Look Around, Start Here
Timothy Leary's dead
This is a reflection on two days that might seem incongruent, Memorial Day and Timothy McVeigh’s execution day. Memorial Day approaches. We remember all deadened by war -- casualties we see and can no longer see. Soon, but not yet, Timothy McVeigh will be executed. Judicial irregularities concerning undisclosed FBI evidence have caused postponement. Most expect the execution will be carried out barring unforeseen reversal of the status of appeal or new trial. For now, his death – or perhaps, his disappearance from view -- is on hold.
Parades and prayers will be held Memorial Day weekend. But for that other day delayed, church bells to be rung in protest of the death penalty wait in silence. Witness-keepers holding candles will have to postpone their vigils at federal buildings, post offices and street corners. Closed circuit television screens stay dim. Those to attend the execution will have to reschedule their travels, wait a while longer before they can watch the taking of his life to ensure that either justice be done or revenge exacted. The body of McVeigh now continues in solitary imprisonment, but when his date comes round will then be removed from public eye, cremated, and carried to parts unknown. So it will be! But after it happens – after the execution -- where will Timothy McVeigh be? If we believe or even just suspect that life goes on after death, what do we think we are doing by removing the body from this form of existence?We don’t know where he’ll be. The speculation runs from hell to heaven to existential nothingness or an absurd No Exit waiting room of Jean Paul Sartre’s -- L’enfer, c’est les autres! (hell is others). Even a Dantesque Purgatorio – where purifying longing seeks to realize what is just beyond one’s current capacities – might be his next residence. What we do know (or do we?) is that once he’s dead he won’t be here. Maybe he won’t be here in the same way he was -- not seen, heard, felt, no threat. While ‘alive’ and with the body he is able to be located in one place at a certain time. ‘Dead,’ outside or beyond the body, the executed will not be that easy to locate in no-space and no time. We don’t hear much from the “other side.” Eternity always baffles us.
The Moody Blues lyric referring to the inside/outside of that other Timothy, says, “he’s outside looking in.” If that’s so, what will this Timothy see once “outside?” Perhaps he’ll see a government convinced they did the right thing, whether at Ruby Ridge, Waco, or Terre Haute. Perhaps he’ll see into the hearts of those hurt and deadened by his ugly act -- the pain of the explosion in Oklahoma City. Perhaps he’ll finally get to see into his own heart. Maybe he’ll see into our hearts. What will he see there?
The rest of us are inside looking out. What do we see? If there is a heaven and hell, it might not satisfy some to consider he’s not gone to hell. Nor might it satisfy others to consider he might yet get into heaven. If you belong to the obliteration philosophy – that it all merely ends with death, followed by nothing – it might not satisfy you that neither punishment nor reward awaits Timothy. I guess what I’m saying is – I don’t know what we see in capital punishment. Unless perhaps it’s an economic view -- dead men cost nothing. While it might satisfy our appetite for equaling the scales, does it balance our hearts with peace, especially that peace that surpasses understanding?
I don’t see what we think we’re doing when we say, “Kill that one!” McVeigh, in effect, said just that, “Kill them!” And he did. But then, so do we. We target “others” in war to be eliminated or executed with dispatch. Bob Kerrey’s recent disclosures mirror the horrors of every soldier who has had to eliminate or execute others in the name of survival, whether personal, national, ideal, political, or just economic. The implement McVeigh used was manure filled truck bomb. The instrument we use on him is a medical procedure that renders the body inert. If life is eternal, what is being killed? Both pro-life and right-to-choose folks on both ends of the life/death spectrum have homework on this.
Timothy McVeigh soon will be killed in our name. “Yes, yes, yes, yes,” many say. Will he then be on the “outside looking in?” Do we actually believe anything ends or finds creative fulfillment by killing someone who killed others because others killed others? We might just as well soberly say, “Let the killing go on, and let it begin with me!” We choose killing by allowing our names to be invoked as the people of this great country at the execution of one more man on death row.Many of us feel that a retributive sacrifice would help both the suffering hearts of those who’ve lost loved ones, and the equalizing minds of those wishing to solve the mystery that makes up so much of life and death, justice and injustice in this existence. A better sacrifice, I submit, is contemplation of mercy and dwelling in mystery. Perhaps a beginning place for this practice is to personally contemplate any forgiveness and grace we’ve received through our years. Another beginning place is to personally face the mystery of ‘other’ and how we’ve tried to kill what we consider ‘other’ in ourselves, and ‘others’ in our surroundings. This contemplation does not refer to guns or bombs. Rather, it refers to the ways only we know about, the despairing or angered ways we deaden ourselves or others when we are in conflict and choose to eliminate it rather than see it through and transform it. This is a harder war to wage. This is a memorial that longs for its own day. This memorial day is equally about mercy as it is about sacrifice.
Sacrifice is often poorly understood or meagerly interpreted. Typically we think of it as immolation, to give up, renounce, injure, or destroy for an ideal, the destruction or surrendering of something for something else. The first entry in Webster’s dictionary is “an act of offering something precious to deity.” God -- our understanding of God -- like eternity, is a mystery! Do we think, then or now, we are glorifying God by killing God’s child, any of God’s children? The prophet Hosea wrote, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (NKJV, Ho 6:6)In the Gospels, now revered as the Christ, Jesus is perhaps better contemplated as making life holy by living and dying as human. Our curious historical thinking about how and why and at whose promptings Jesus died might change from the thinking that he was given to be killed by the Father, or by the Jewish people, or by the Roman state. We might change our thinking to meditate that by entering this creation Christ found welcome from a human being willing to remember, embody, and release for others the mystery of Life/Itself.
Perhaps the sacrifice of Christ is the making holy of what was always holy – creation, humanity, all life. That sacredness had been forgotten. Now, gratefully, we are trying to remember. “Remember me,” Christ says, entering creation again and again. The sacred energy that enters with the Christ enters our hearts and bodies so as to transform, transfigure, and raise us up to the life of compassion, grace, and dwelling -- now and forever -- with love, the mystery of God. As our consciousness deepens awareness of holiness, our sacrifice (i.e. sacer=holy, facere=to make) might turn to making life-now sacred-life with mercy.
I wait for mercy, i.e. a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion. While waiting, I’ll be holding a candle. I’ll listen to church bells. I’ll pray for Timothy. I’ll pray for all those killed in Oklahoma City, Waco, Ruby Ridge, Vietnam, Korea, Nagasaki, Sarajevo, Johannesburg, El Salvador, Santiago, Gaza, the Bronx, across this country, even here in Camden Maine.
I’ll pray that everyone this Memorial Day will be remembered for suffering the wars we conduct within ourselves and with each other. I’ll be silent. I’ll be praying. I’ll be looking out from the inside where my heart will be sober and sad for all who are killed by ignorance, confusion, anger, and lack of awareness. I’ll pray that we’re all wrong when we think (yes, think) that killing for killing is a good way of being. I’ll pray that forgiveness and love reveal itself in our hearts so that we will come, finally, to see.
“No, no, no, no,” I say. No more killing. Death is capable enough in our world to take us all away. Why choose to do death’s work for it? To forget sacred life is to choose death. I’d rather choose life! Outside or inside – we all get a look. Remember to look, contemplate the mystery of life.
In a haunting film by Alexander Sokurov, Mother and Son, the opening scene shows a dying woman and her adult son with her at the bed:
(1997 Zero Film)
Perhaps both inside and outside long to be unified and resembling where they meet. If we dwell in the body and the body dwells in us, there’s a chance we’ll come to see what disturbs us about crime and death, what beckons us about memorial and mercy. It is possible that only in our minds do we kill, punish, separate, and hate. Our bodies, the thin place where inner and outer converge, have a purpose and a wisdom in this existence we have forgotten.
Let’s not remove the body precipitously before it teaches us what we need to learn. And let’s treat others as our self in this life.
What do you see? Right now, what do you see? If we wish to see, to choose life -- look around, start here!
(Bill Halpin, Meetingbrook, Camden, Maine, 12May2001)
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