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Who Decides Whether Someone is Worthy of Kindness?

worth kindnessPennie blogs regularly at The Accidental Blogger. This post first appeared there. 

When does a person become unworthy of kindness?

This isn’t quite a rhetorical question. But I’m not exactly looking for answers. I think there are many.

This question came up in my home the day Derrick Todd Lee, a convicted serial killer, died. I wasn’t thinking about Lee, though. I googled Trevor Reese.

Trevor was my son’s high-school classmate and soccer teammate. Until he wasn’t.

Between their sophomore and junior years of high school, Trevor did the unthinkable. On a summer day, he slit the throat of Jack Attuso, a happy eight-year-old, out for a walk with his family.

My son was sixteen at the time, as was Trevor.


The news was confounding. Even today when I read about it, my heart breaks in every direction.

  • Jack’s parents
  • Trevor’s parents
    • Jack’s siblings
    • Trevor’s siblings
      • Jack
      • Trevor

And the heartbreak goes on.

In his sixteenth year, Trevor felt he was like a Derrick Todd Lee. On that summer day in 2010, Trevor set out to get some relief. To get high, if you will. To feel better. He was sure killing would do it. In his court testimony, he explains that he was disappointed after the act.

The Lee and Trevor stories are horrifying. Google their names if you really want to know more. But I ask:

When did/will/would a Derrick Todd Lee or a Trevor Reese become unworthy of kindness?

“Maybe he (my son) could write to him, tell him something nice he remembers about him?”


“To lift him up. Maybe add something.”


“What do you mean why?

“Why waste your energy on someone like that?”

I was surprised to hear this from someone who sees the value in lifting up. But my partner had a point. Why expend good energy and goodwill on someone who may be immune to it? We have many people, projects, and commitments in our lives. If we prioritize it all, where would a Lee or a Trevor fall on our list?

Can I make the time? Should I make the time? Stripped down, the question is: “Is he worthy of my kindness?”

My heart answers yes every time.

Good people do bad things. Bad people do good things.

In a scene from an Argentinian film Hombre mirando al sudeste (Man Facing Southeast), Rantes, the protagonist, is in a pathology lab. He slices a brain in half and asks a series of questions as he explores the crevices: “Where is that afternoon where he first felt the love of a woman?” “What marks are left of the moments of pleasure and pain that this man felt?” As he tears apart pieces of the brain and washes them down a drain: “There goes Einstein. Bach. Mr. Nobody. A crazy man. A murderer.” Rantes asks the doctor who is visiting him: “What do you think, doctor? Does this drain spill into hell or into heaven?”

There are so many things we can’t truly know.

  • Why?
  • What’s in a person’s head?
  • Will my kind words be fruitless or fruitful?

When I asked my son what he thought:  “I think I would actually like to write to him. I don’t know what I’d say. ‘I hope you find peace.’ Something. It can’t hurt.”

Those words, that missive would be small. Light as a ping pong ball. So why not toss it over? That ping pong ball could hit a brick wall then bounce away, back at us, over our heads, into oblivion. Or, the ball could fall into an open heart. Maybe lift it a little.

Maybe Trevor would remember something good. He’ll spend the rest if his life in Angola. What could a ping pong ball of kindness hurt?

I confess I’m drawn to stories like the Amish story of forgiveness and grief. Within weeks of the shooting in which the milk truck driver entered a school and shot ten students, killing five and then himself, Amish families donated money to the murderer’s widow and children. What’s more, the day after the services for the victims, some of the family members of the victims attended the killer’s burial service, hugged his widow, and expressed condolences to the family.

Trevor’s mom was my son’s math teacher. My son liked her. I often thought about reaching out but never did. I regret that. I should have written. I should have tossed her a ping pong ball of kindness. Maybe it’s not too late to send a kind missive, perhaps even an uplifting word to her son, Trevor. Tossing that out there will feel good, no matter how it lands or where it bounces.

© Pennie Nichols, 2016. All rights reserved.

Pennie Nichols

I have long been an editor, writer for hire, and textbook author. I wrote my way into a freelance career and suddenly I’m here, with socks covered in the bothersome burrs of freelancers and middle-aged women. I am not weary of writing. Every day is a new opportunity to define, invent, and discover myself through words. Words are the tools that help me dig deep into my experiences and relationships, the energy that draws me out into light and understanding. Through sharing my experiences and words, I hope to connect, to share a little light.

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Tuesday 9th of February 2016

My heart tore in half reading this story. I actually felt your angst about the situation. I agree with you. I think what you want to do is kind and loving and that always wins in my world. And yes, who are we to decide that question. Wonderful post. Very thought provoking.


Tuesday 9th of February 2016

Thanks, Carolann. And thanks for reading AND thinking.


Tuesday 9th of February 2016

Thanks for commenting Donna. Anger cripples us. And it's an even nastier snare when it's tangled with grief.


Tuesday 9th of February 2016

I have seen both sides of this, a family firming holding on to anger and a family letting anger go immediately. Those who held on have not progressed, their grief owns them, defines them......those that forgave? They are healing.

Carol Graham

Tuesday 9th of February 2016

This rings true to me in that I recently wrote a post about one of my son's friends who burned down our work shop when he was high on drugs. He bragged about it that he got away with it and was never charged. A couple years later his mother came into my office for health counseling and esthetic services.

I recognized her name, swallowed hard and not only was she a client for the next few years but regarded me as a close friend. When she tried to commit suicide, I was the one she called when she was in the hospital.

I never told her who I was or that many of the personal items that were burned were the only items our son-in-law had of his mother who died when he was 5. One day her son came into our store, after he got out of jail for yet another crime. I know he did not know who I was but he wanted to thank me for helping his mom,.


Tuesday 9th of February 2016

Wow, Carol. What a powerful example. I think many would have turned the mother away (personal conflict). I admire that you counseled her and never brought her son's offense against your family up to her or to her son.

Beth Havey

Tuesday 9th of February 2016

Some people are so brave with their ability to forgive. Forgiveness should be in all of this. I had to forgive someone in my life and it took time and hard work. But I don't regret it--forgiveness is for the forgiver.


Tuesday 9th of February 2016

The is very true. When we forgive, we release ourselves from a prison of sorts.

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