12 January 2007


Recently, a certain dictator met his fate and those final grainy moments were preserved and broadcasted to the entire world via the internet, with most of his final moments even broadcast on all of our news networks. I had a conversation with my mom on the reasons that this bothered me, my quite typical pauses with the death penalty being one of those. (If we, the civilized, are punishing the uncivilized with death, what then separates us from them? I told you--not original; quite typical). She replied, "He killed children". She knew that I had no argument beyond this.

My entire life, I had reservations with the death penalty, but once I became a mother, the death penalty sometimes seemed not enough of a punishment. I'm not the type that can watch coverage of the kidnapping and death of a child, think that it's sad, and never think of it again. I am the type that sobs when watching the media coverage of these events. I am the type that, seemingly against my own will, plays out what the last moments of their lives must have been like, how they surely cried out for their parents. "Turn off the news" is what my own mother has said to me countless times. It doesn't matter; I can't turn off my mind.

The man in Florida that kidnapped a sleeping child from her bed, held her captive, abused her in countless ways and then buried her alive while she clutched her stuffed animal and called out for her dad has the death penalty attached to his prosecution. To me, this is not justice. I don't believe that there is justice in these instances; but surely death by lethal injection doesn't meet my standards as a mother--the only thing that might is if there were some way to inflict upon him the horror of what that girl lived through. Abuse him. Lock him in a closet. Bury him alive.

I struggle with how these two different sides of me co-exist. When Big A started kindergarten, she never once turned back to look at me; she raced through that door, ready to face the world. As a parent, that is what I want most to give my kids: the sense of security and confidence that no matter what they face, they can endure and be strong and not have to worry about looking behind them. I'm also still the parent that nine times out of ten when I let Big A go to the mailbox alone first lectures her about safety and reviews the routine, then peers through the windows to be sure that she's safe. I want her to be fearless, and yet, I struggle not to instill fear in her. I want to shield her from the horrors of what exists outside our door and control, but I want her to also be wary, to protect herself. I want to teach her kindness and compassion to all, even strangers, but I want her to turn and run screaming from those who ask for her help.

Who are these two beings inside of me? How is it that the day that I became a mother--the most life-changing event in my life; the moment, that when it came to me, blinded me and took away my breath from the overwhelming love that I felt, was also the day that this other sword bearing vigilante inside of me was born?

I once read a proverb of an elderly grandmother telling her granchildren that inside of each of us there live two wolves. One represents anger, bitterness, hate, etc. and one represents love, compassion, kindness and such. A child asks her, "Which one lives"?, to which she responds, "The one that you feed". These lingering issues inside of me make me wonder which wolf is sleeping by my bed with a full stomach , and which is standing at the door, howling for his food.


b. said...

I remember, just a week or so after C was born, running to a nearby party store for milk. Sitting in the parking lot was a man in a shabby car, just sitting there, watching teenagers come in and out with their snacks. I immediately pegged him as a predator, though there really was nothing to suggest he was. That was the first time I realized my perception of the world had changed. There was danger EVERYWHERE, in places there had not been just a week before.

I've tried to temper it, but I agree with you 100%, it's hard. You want to give them confidence, but yet the tools to keep themselves safe.

Emptyman said...

The death penalty is a response of the polis and so one can oppose it as a member of that polis. The urge to punish, the thirst for vengence and retribution, is a human response and so one can feel it as a human being. The two are not incompatible.

From what I can tell, the girls are confident and light of spirit. So you must be keeping a good balancing act.

Lauren said...

As I think you know from one of my recent posts I so agree with you. And I just did the same thing as b. in your comments but at a drive thru window as I was waiting in line I was eyeing the strange places some had parked and why they were just sitting there. Granted they were just probably trying to eat their food but it still struck a cord in me.

I think there is some justice in an eye for an eye. But I don't know how we as a "civilized" country could actually accomplish this. I am not saying I am for or against the death penalty since that view varies depending on the day.

mamalang said...

I war with myself over the death penalty, so I won't even begin to argue it with someone else.

What a very well written post. And so true. I've always felt that vigilante inside me, but tried very hard to starve it. After having my children, it's kept a little healthier than it was. I also can not watch those shows, news reports, etc. The birth of both of my children were marred with the killing of pregnant women by their husbands just days before they (and I) were due. That still sends me into such a tailspin of grief I can't even stand to think about. For those women and children, killed by someone they love, death is not enough...it's too easy. But somewhere, a mother mourns that her baby, the one she raised, could be that person that performed that unspeakable act. And as a mother, I feel for her.

From what I've seen, you're doing a great job of not inflicting that fear into your children.

mamalang said...

Oh look, I actually came to comment on the comment you left on my blog and totally forgot after reading that eloquent post...lol

That song would be a definite groove finder. But mine would have to be a daiquiri...no teqilia for me!