Pennie 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
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.
- 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.