When does a person become unworthy of kindness?
Although it’s not a rhetorical question, I’m not looking for any answers. I think there are many.
This question came up in my home the day Derrick Todd Lee, 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 this:
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.
Copyright © 2016 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.
Powerful and every word makes you think. We struggle with what we bend toward and what pushes us away. Sometimes the two come together in forgiveness. Pain is hard to forget. I hope your son is okay.
Thanks, Beth. And yes. My son is fine. Six years have passed, and I think my son and his classmates finished out the innocence of their years with a disturbing truth about darkness that can lurk beneath the surface. I’m glad my son was left to wrestle with the complication of knowing, liking, and respecting Trevor’s mom. Of having known and liked Trevor. I think the early lesson in big life contradictions will help him navigate other paths. Thanks for reading.
What an exquisite post. Heartbreaking and thought provoking, too. Looks to me as though you are setting a great example for your son.
So many people have problems with the idea of being kind to or forgiving people who do horrific deeds. I am not one of them. Of course, those guys who behead others? Hmm. I am going oto have to think about where my line is. Thanks for this.
It’s not easy, even for those of us who generally practice forgiveness and kindness. And when we search our souls, we won’t all land in the same place. But that’s okay too.
Wow. This really made me question my knee jerk reaction to cruel people. Very tough post! Thank you for opening the dialogue.
Thanks for reading.
There’s so much evil in the world and sometimes it’s hard to sort out the how’s and the why’s. However, kindness and forgiveness is probably the only way to heal your own hurt and anger.
Forgiveness can be unexpectedly and powerfully healing. Kindness just feels good.
As always , Pennie, your words can be thought provoking which is a good thing. Part of what makes us civilized.
As for the question, I have a so much simpler view. Like the Amish, I believe God created all of us, good people, bad people and all in between. It is not in my job description to determine the why of some people’s horrific acts but to show kindness as with the good. Others will deal with the bad deeds and their debt to society. God will deal with them in the end.
Looking at every human, built to roughly the same specifications, as a vessel for good or evil, I must recognize that there within is the potential, the engine for good or even greatness.
It is not easy. Thank you for helping put it into perspective.
Thanks for your thoughtful response.
thanks Pennie, this triggered soul searching and an increase in self awareness.
Thank YOU for reading, Kathy. Soul-searching can be scary, but beautifully rewarding.
Wow, huge thinks, Penny. I took a seminary course once (I was doing a lay program in spirituality) called Is “Human Forgiveness Possible?” and your story hits on one of the kinds of issues that we discussed…and pondered…and struggled with without really being comfortable with a definitive answer. I remember one person saying when you don’t know what to do, do the kind thing. And sometimes, in complex situations, it’s even hard to know what the kind thing is. So much to wrestle wit here. Thanks for not being afraid to broach this subject and get us thinking.
Not an easy topic, but I think it’s worth tangling with the tough topics. And important to understand that we won’t all find the same answers for ourselves. Thanks for reading.
This is powerful. I find for myself that it is often easier for me to be kind and forgive someone like this, not even knowing them, than it is to be kind to the person right in front of me who has worn me down. This piece brings me to some big thinks. Thank you.
So many big thinks. I had to harness my “pen” to keep from rambling in twenty directions. Thanks for reading.
Wow – that’s quite a thought provoking posts. And what an unthinkable story. I read a little bit more about the case and it seems unreal. To have something like that happen to your son in front of your eyes – I don’t know how I could even go on. And yet, it seems like your son’s friend must have been mentally ill. But I’m not equipped to say how or if that should help him. Good luck to your son with his decision and with what to say in his letter if he decides to write it.