Not Doing Wrong ~ Think You are Right?
I wrote this about two weeks ago. I have been insecure to publish it.
Since completing this, a 16 year old boy walked into a high school and proceeded to act out a mass stabbing. Since I wrote this, a 70 year old man walked into a Jewish community center and acted out a hate crime in which people loss their lives. Today, the day I publish this, is the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon. A year ago there was a bombing at the finish line in which many people lost their lives and many more were forever changed.
I walked into the room hopeful within five minutes I would be broken.
What can I learn from this experience? I keep asking myself this question.
I had two experiences in my life that I can recall being of the utmost importance in shaping who I am today. The first happened 25yrs ago, the second I will share 25 years from now.
Everything started with this story.
My cousin Steve M. murdered and raped two women. The year was 1989 I was about to turn 20years old. The killings were supposedly related to a satanic cult, so it was said.
I remember the morning before the killings. Stevie, as I called him, stopped at my house. I was out in my front yard of my parent's house cutting grass. He pulled up in his father's pickup truck to invite me out for the night with him. That would be the night he would kill two girls.
I did not go.
That conversation I had with him in my front yard forever defined how I would live out the rest of my life.
Me, standing in my yard sweaty from cutting grass. Him, innocent with the youth of early morning. He stopped to visit with me before going on to visit with his grandmother who lived up the street. His grandmother was the sister of my grandmother, nothing of much importance but time would bring meaning to this moment for me.
I remember our conversation that day; it was about music he had sitting on the passenger seat in cassette tapes by The Doors, Eagles, and a few homemade mixed tapes. Nothing jumped out at me as abnormal or satanic it was the music of our past. Conversations about school, girlfriends, family, fun... completely normal stuff.
24 hours later I would awake to the news.
He killed those young girls. Be it the work of the Devil or the distorted mind of madman. He was guilty. He is spending the rest of life in jail. The jury stated that Stevie had no history of prior criminal convictions, that he was under mental or emotional disturbance, whatever that means. The jury stated that he should be allowed to live so the social scientists could study him. Like this needs to be learned to be understood?
In the days that followed the murder I became the cousin of the man that murdered those two girls. Some people looked at me as if just being related to him was an act of sin. People would try to bate me into conversations about why someone would do that. People would argue with me that he should be put to death. I had no argument for that. To this day I am against the death penalty and I do not want to persuade you, nor do I want you to persuade me.
On that morning of the murders Stevie was normal to me. There were seeds of evil inside of him getting ready to grow. But that morning he was just my cousin.
Seeds live inside of us, I know this to be true. Prior to the murders Stevie was not evil. No killing cats, no hurting his friends...there was small drug and alcohol use, yet nothing extreme. At worst his future path was leading towards a boring life. Lower middle class life in a dying steel town. I could see him getting the last of the factory jobs, marrying a girl that he got pregnant. His life could have become a sad song that Bruce Springsteen would write about on the “The River” album.
As for me, time would pass and I would no longer be the cousin of a murderer. I would be left to live with the ghost of that day. That ghost would teach me to live purposeful, to live with effort to become a seeker of experience.
That ghost would teach me that words like “truth” and “right” are nothing more than judgments on how I would react and view the world. I would know, no matter how righteous or compassionate or how much wisdom that I may gain, that seeds of evil live within us. As I grew into manhood I did nothing in my life that one would call evil, even my sins weren’t all that bad and when I would fall short I would do my best to learn and do better next time. I would be a normal person, be it a bit goofy and slightly eccentric at times.
Seeds are there in all of us. This feeling will never leave me.
Seldom do we recognize the monster within us. Easy is it to see the victim's face reflecting back at us in the mirror. The monster stays hidden, hidden even from our own conscious. Much of life persists beyond good and evil. Evil is all too often mislabeled “right” in a person's mind.
The person who bombs an abortion clinic thinks that they are right. The person who holds up hate-filled protest signs at a gay wedding thinks that they are right. The Priest who molested a child then passed out communion on Sunday morning thinks he is right. Hitler thought he was right. The man who beats his wife thinks he is right. The person who believes in Noah's Ark, but thinks that global warming is made up thinks they are right.
This is the right decision, I am doing the right thing we tell ourselves. Right is a reaction, it's a judgment, it's not thought out. Much evil is done out of one thinking they are right.
Not doing wrong. That is a practice that forces you to slow down to gain and hold a perspective.
Know this: no matter how much you may think that you are doing the right thing, your efforts, no matter how well intended, are not complete and you will make errors. Leave room in your life for errors; great things come out of learning from our mistakes. This practice, this thought process leads to not doing wrong.
Not doing wrong forces you to slow down. Not doing wrong makes you accountable for the action that you are about to do. Not doing wrong forces you to think about how this will affect others. Not doing wrong teaches you that “right” may be a mystery but I will do my best to not create harm.
I understand that I may create harm. Having a practice of "not doing wrong" helps guide me in stopping the suffering that I may create in others.
That is a ghost I can live with.