By WENDY HODGE
As I write this, we are 48 hours away from what has become a tradition for Tim, Tim’s parents and myself. The Saturday after Labor Day is the annual Daylily Spectacular at Bell’s Daylily Garden in Sycamore, Georgia.
I had every intention of writing this article about the joys of planning and packing for this trip, of how much we have anticipated this long weekend since the moment the Spectacular ended last year and of how we have labored so many hours in the yard to prepare a brand new, beautiful bed in which to plant all the lovely lilies we will be bringing home with us.
But that’s not what’s on my heart today. What’s weighing on me like a stone is the image I saw this morning of a man who had been arrested in Memphis. He’d gone on a shooting spree that lasted all day, killing four people, before he was finally caught. And there was his face when I turned on the television. He was grinning, baring his teeth, looking for all the world like he’d just won the lottery. It was his eyes that gave it away — there was no joy there, just evil. Plain, unadulterated, soul-obliterating evil.
People will talk in the days to come about how he’s a black man in the South and how he didn’t have a father, and how he was surrounded by bad role models, and how drugs and violence are the life he has inherited, and how he was deprived of an education and how his choices were limited. I don’t want to hear any of it. Aren’t we tired, as a whole, of listening to the same roster of terrible odds that seem to be stacked in favor of becoming a criminal?
I am. I’m sick to death of it. We all, every single one of us, have a choice. It’s as simple as that. At some point in our life, we all choose — good or evil. I have compassion for people who struggle with the hand life has dealt them. But my compassion ends when someone uses a gun or a knife or his own body to hurt someone.
When a man decides he’s angry enough with himself that he’ll kidnap a woman while she’s jogging and do unspeakable things to her body and her heart before ending her life, I have zero compassion. None.
When someone decides they just want to hurt people, as many people as they can, and they get in their car and begin to drive and hunt down humans as if they’re playing a video game, I have zero compassion. None.
When someone drives to a Target and waits outside for someone to rob, finally zeroing in on a woman and her child, and then they take that mother and son to an ATM and force her to hand over the cash she has worked for, all the while knowing she is terrified her child will be hurt, I have zero compassion. None.
I don’t want to hear any more lectures about discrimination or oppression. Don’t give me any more statistics about kids raised by single parents or living beneath the poverty line. I don’t want to read another word that even hints that it’s anyone else’s fault but the people who take up weapons and choose to go out and spread evil.
Let’s put the blame squarely where it belongs. And let’s quit qualifying that blame. “If only he’d had more choices,” someone will say. “It was tough without a father in his life,” another will add. “His mother was a junkie,” the reporter will write. As if these factors have somehow made him less culpable, less responsible for the choice he made.
Meanwhile, this walking embodiment of evil, who is a full-grown adult fully capable of choosing to do good rather than evil, will continue to terrorize and rape and murder because he knows we will not hold him accountable. Prison is just another room to occupy. Drugs are there. Violence is there. Hatred and contempt are there. He will be right at home. And then he’ll be let go after spending a small fraction of the time a judge sentenced him to. And he will walk straight back into his life of choosing evil. And people will die because of it.
It’s worth mentioning that all that evil — the woman and child who were kidnapped, the shooting spree that lasted all day and the kidnapped jogger whose body was just found — all took place in Memphis. All that evil in just one city over just a few days. That’s just a drop in the bucket of evil all over the world, every single day.
I watched “The Green Mile” last weekend. It’s in my top five movies of all time. And this time, when John Coffey looked at Paul Edgecomb and said in his deep, slow, southern voice, “I’m tired, boss. I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I hear and feel in the world every day. There’s too much of it,” I FELT it down in my soul.
We will pack our suitcases and take our road trip this weekend, and we will be so grateful for the beauty of the world. There’s so much of it. But there is evil, too. We can’t turn our back on it or wave it away with excuses. We must stand against it and hold accountable those who embrace it.
May we all remember those in Memphis who have lost more than words can tell.