The other day, I wrote about a new and beautiful book called "The Graybar Hotel," it was a debut book, a short story collection. The author is named Curtis Dawkins, and he is a convicted murder, he shot a man to death in Kalamazoo Michigan more than a decade ago and was sentenced to life imprisonment without any chance of parole.
He will spent the rest of his days there, he has no hope.
In the acknowledgments, Dawkins, and MFA graduate in the University of Michigan's Fiction Workshop program said he will never understand that night when he killed a man, he had just taken crack cocaine for the first time. He is donating any profits to an education fund for his children.
I suppose I am naive, but I was shocked by the response on my social media pages, a number of people said Dawkins should not ever be permitted to write or profit from a book and some suggested he should spend every day for the rest of life in hell, unable to create or have a peaceful day.
I couldn't get my head around this idea that we should commit an atrocity on a human being to punish him for committing an atrocity on another human being. Mercy was a stranger on that thread, and I momentarily felt silly for even raising it, the freak on the wall.
A fellow writer posted, saying Dawkins ought to be able to write the book, but should not in any way profit from it, nor should his publisher. This, of course, is just another way of saying he shouldn't and couldn't publish his book, and what a loss that would have been.
I loved the book, Dawkins brought me into this lost and unseen world.
I am often struck by the decline and fall of mercy in America. If not for Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama, we would never even hear of it, it is never, ever, on the news.
We consider ourselves a religious – some say a Christian – nation, but people who consider themselves religious, and many who call themselves Christians believe neither in forgiveness or redemption. Jesus Christ was all about mercy and forgiveness, yet so many of the people who claim to worship him are not. How does that work?
I struggle to grasp this idea of faith, as I understand it. I long for faith, it is a very personal mission for me, and I embrace the idea of mercy, it alone can save our world.
Pope Francis calls for us to practice mercy to prisoners and the poor, but most people do not listen or care. What does mercy mean if Dawkins is not entitled to any of it, not to mention the sick, the poor, the elderly and the refugees crowding the camps of the world?
In her recent book on mercy, Hallelujah Anyway, Anne Lamott writes that an "open, merciful heart is a setup for pain, shame and being mocked." This is true, I was mocked quite a bit for suggesting that even a convicted murderer might one day be entitled to mercy or forgiveness. Most people found the very idea outrageous, and in my life, it is true that the evocation of mercy often brings shame, mockery, or silence.
Welcome to Vengeance World, wrote Lamott. Just look at the news and count up the number of times you hear about mercy or forgiveness.
"I am not sure I even recognize the ever presence of mercy any more," the writes, "the divine and the human; the messy, crippled, transforming, heartbreaking, lovely, devastating presence of mercy. But I have come to believe that I am starving to death for it, and my world is, too."
I am starving for it, and to see it beyond the narrow confines of my world and my farm.
Mercy is a radical kind of kindness.
Mercy, writes Lamott, means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolvable, forgiving the unforgiveable. Mercy brings us to the miracle of apology, given and accepted, to unashamed humility when we have erred or forgotten.
If we can't show mercy to Curtis Dawkins, who nearly drowns in grief and regret, then who can we show it to? Only good people who follow the law and never harm anyone? Are they the ones who really need it? All I saw on my media pages was Vengeance World, a life sentence without parole was not enough, Dawkins had to suffer every day in every possible way. He was no longer human, he had forfeited any merciful thought.
What does it mean to be a devout Jew in our world? A practicing Christian or Muslim? All of these great religions preach forgiveness and mercy and redemption. But there is so little mercy or redemption in our country, or in our world. Sometimes I think Pope Francis is the last person alive who understands the meaning of faith. I hope he lives to be 150 years old.
Such hypocrisy – and it is hypocrisy, by any definition – is almost overwhelming to me. Only crime and the criminal confront us with the perplexity of radical evil, wrote the moral philosopher Hannah Arendt, but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core. In politics, love is a stranger…
I hope to become devout practitioner of radical mercy.