Do No Harm


We do one another great harm as humans, don’t we? 

I watched a documentary about a death row inmate, convicted of a triple murder and sentenced to death. He killed these people when he was 18 years old.  As the documentary progressed I was stricken numerous times about how fragile we are, what barbarians we are, and about how one choice…one decision made in a fleeting moment…can lead to utter devastation…to others and ourselves.  We just keep on going, walking, taking in stride the damage to ourselves and others…and we go on.  Some of us go to the death chamber and are injected with chemicals that kill us; others go on to new lives in strange places and we go on.  I am amazed by us.  We should be dragging along, barely able to take the next step because of the damage; we should have dropped off limbs and hair; we should be bone thin and starving, yet we walk on…just like it never happened.  No, it’s not healing.  You don’t heal from some wounds.  Not these.

The young man, this murderer, might have been envisioned as a dark, huge, brutal monster had I not seen his face close up as he spoke to his final interviewer; but he was a child…a child with dark circles under his eyes illustrating the stress under which he existed, though he fought with his whole psyche to deny it, or look away from it…to pretend it didn’t exist.  Even though he was well into his second decade of life by the time of his execution, he was a child…probably with an IQ in double digits and not high ones.  It made me very sad. I do not believe he should have been killed.  He was clueless.  He was in no way someone who could have understood  accountability, let alone be held to it.  He was a boy, in supreme denial of his own past actions and those about to befall him.  He never apologized to his victims’ families, never acknowledged them in any way, except to forgive THEM for the atrocities they put upon HIM by killing HIM.  What happens to us to make us so confused and so unacquainted with just doing the right thing?  Where is the reality check? His last words included something about being in heaven.  Heaven?  I don’t know…he said he had become a man, not the boy he was when he got there…but no.  He was still a little boy, plain as day.  He wasn’t a misguided boy; he was an UNguided boy who no doubt died clueless. 

And none of his victims came back to life.

His accomplice, the same age but clearly a man, was extremely bright, intensely human and in the moment.  It was obvious he could have been anyone, done anything he wanted to do…but for his choices and possibly the choices of others.  His father spent the majority of his own life in prison because of, he said, drugs and alcohol…choices.  He blamed himself for his son’s life sentence, and he may have been right because his son was raised in utter poverty without benefit of a father.  I’m sure that affected the son’s choices…and his options.  So sad.  I watched, wondering what might have happened if this young man had somehow inherited an ounce of INTEGRITY somewhere along the line.  He might have been a scholar, could have been.  His father, by the way, now sober, was also a very bright, very human, feeling person…he grieved the loss of his son’s freedom too late.  This man could have been an absolute pillar of his community…you could tell. But he chose a life of addiction.  I felt such an absolute sense of the wastefulness of humanity, watching these people, these prisoners and murderers. My God.  What a colossal shame.

I have seen the same waste around me, in people who had a goodness about them, wrapped in putridity and hatefulness.  A waste.  I have watched the goodness become infinitesimal and the evil take over, spilling into the lives of others near them.  And they go on, slogging through the death and despair around them…like nothing happened. Just another blow stricken for humanity.  Good job.

Family members of the victims, and friends, were as different as a handful of stones scooped up from the river bottom.  But different as they looked and spoke, they were all forever changed, forever burdened by a grief they could not comprehend.  There was such a sense of helplessness about all of them.  All of them isolated themselves, cut themselves off from the world for fear of further devastation…actually doing more harm to themselves, because loneliness is painful too.  It makes the hole in your heart bigger, doesn’t it, even though in a strange way it feels safer.  I’d make a terrible juror.  I’d want to make everybody feel better.  Everybody. I’d want to make sense of it somehow when no sense can be made.  None of these people deserved the grief heaped upon them; where is their justice?  I don’t think there is any.  You can’t turn back time…at least not yet…and that’s what you’d have to do.

The captain of the death squad, the head of the lethal injection team…ultimately decided he couldn’t kill anymore.  He was also a warm and compassionate man.  Sounds strange, doesn’t it?  A compassionate killer.  After over 120 deaths to his credit…or detriment really…he just couldn’t do it anymore, and he now believes there is no reason for any human to kill another human…law or no law. And I thought, “Too bad he didn’t realize that sooner.” Followed by, “It wouldn’t have mattered.”  And he cries about having done his job as a professional…killer.  I am understanding humanity less and less and looking upon us with greater and greater disdain as I age.  I should have been a cat.  Cats don’t care.

I don’t know how I would feel if I were the victim; I don’t know whether I would want the perpetrator to be killed.  Maybe I would. I couldn’t be the one to do it, so…just exactly what does that mean?  I’m essentially saying, “Somebody kill this person.”  Nice.  When I was a few interviews away from possibly being chosen for a death penalty case jury, I became physically ill at the mere thought of having to decide whether or not to cause the end of someone’s life.  I don’t have the kill gene.  It was a good thing to learn, I guess. 

But I do have the compassion gene. Sometimes I wish I didn’t. 

We just do one another great harm as a way of life.  It’s accepted as the norm.  One way or another, we manage to do it.  I have spent a lot of time studying human behavior, my own and others’,  and the more I learn, the sadder and more incredulous I become.  We have become uncivil to one another, unkind and uncaring and we have the nerve to say we love one another while we know we are lying about that, and WHILE we do one another harm and know we’re doing it.  We think we know what love is, but we don’t have a clue, any more than that child on death row.  That kid was homeless at the time of his crimes, having been thrown away by his ‘loved ones’.  Oh…they came back and were there when he was put to death.  Nice. I really should give up trying to figure it out. 

I called love ‘parasitic’ a few weeks ago and I’m not sure I’m wrong about that. I keep looking for love out there in the world, not for me, but just to see whether I can even find it… the kind that doesn’t involve taking something or expecting something from someone.  I don’t think it exists.  And don’t say, “I’m a parent; I know about unconditional love.”  Real love goes both ways.  It doesn’t always come back.  I think if you illustrate real love, arrows would go BOTH ways with no payments, no bloodsucking, no killing, no harm done.  We can’t do it.  We humans can’t do it.

I think we are far more comfortable harming one another for the sake of selfishness, than we are really loving.  Really loving.   Love has become a comsumable rather than a donation. If we drew an illustration of the direction of love, more arrows would point inward than those pointing out.  If everybody takes and nobody gives, won’t we run out of love and compassion?  Isn’t that what we’re doing? 

Do you love anybody just for the sake of loving them?  I mean expecting nothing?  Come on now…tell the truth.  You’re getting something or you wouldn’t be there.  It’s true.  That’s human nature in the rawest form.  Take.  Consume.  Survive.  Tina Turner said, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”  Right.  But I think real love has much to do with it…if we could only do it.  Something made this murderer void of compassion, selfish enough to steal the very lives of people, not even realizing there was wrongdoing involved.  I think it must have been lovelessness. 

As a race, we don’t do love well anymore…if we ever did.  I think we’d have fewer inmates if we did.  I know; there is evil in the world, just for the sake of evil…but the people who are in jail because they were unguided or unloved…I think we’d see fewer of them if we knew what love means and we just tried to do no harm.  Is the world better off without this child/murderer?  I doubt it. And I wonder what he might have become if he had been loved.


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