I stood outside the building on a “killing day”. We were there to pray. For deliverance. For mercy for all those lost souls. For someone, anyone to listen and stop the violence. Begging God to forgive us for covering ourselves in so much blood. Cold hands holding rosaries on a snowy December night. Honking and rude gestures in the middle of a sunny, summer day. On one day, death row. On another, an abortion facility. Can you tell which was which? Would you know the building just from passing by?
Everybody thinks they know what goes on there. Do they really know? Do you? Do I? More importantly, perhaps, do any of us really want to know what happens there?
When death happens behind closed doors, whether here or here, we can convince ourselves that it’s something other than violence. That it’s something other than the deliberate taking of human life, whether they “deserve” it or not. We get glimpses of it when something goes “wrong”. We sniff truth on the wind like hungry dogs, and a glimmer of what’s really going on here emerges. Something is rotten, and that something is us. This human nature, this fallen man. We buy into the idea that some lives are worth more than others, that violence is the price we must pay for “freedom” and safety. This isn’t new. This blood soaked landscape. The first act of violence happened in the first family, when Cain killed his brother over who was the favored son. The human story is weaved through and through with violence.
No, this human nature is the same. We’ve gotten very adept at hiding the proof. As long as this institutionalized violence is kept behind closed doors, and administered by professionals, we can forget it’s happening. It’s so easy to forget about the suffering and violence we don’t see.
As I drove home from Maggie’s preschool, a story came on the news about a botched execution in Oklahoma last night. The drugs didn’t work and 45 minutes later the man finally died from a massive heart attack, after writhing and moaning on the table for twenty minutes when the paralyzing drug was ineffective. Some might say he deserved it. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. That’s not really my point. My point is, it only made the news because something went wrong. At the introduction to the segment, the announcer warned that the description of what happened “might be disturbing”. What was disturbing? That a man was strapped down and given drugs to stop his heart? No. The disturbing part was that he wasn’t paralyzed when the drug to stop his heart was administered. The disturbing part was that we had to actually see what lethal injection looks like, when the condemned is capable of moving.
Then I got online and read this letter from a twin who survived a botched abortion (her brother did not) written to the man who tried to kill her. When I heard that today is Holocaust remembrance day, I wept into the sweet smelling head of my baby boy, because the violence. The blood. The silence. The man writhing in pain in a death chamber in Oklahoma. The biohazard bags full of human bodies in the dumpster of the “clinic” down the street. The human ashes floating silently from the chimneys, landing on the shoulders of German farmers planting their fields. Did they know what it was? Where it came from and what happened there? Did they care?
And me, do I care? Do I stand up against the violence that plagues the human heart? Do I shed light on the killing that happens behind closed doors? How do we become peacemakers when we’re surrounded by hatred, rage, and the kind of fear under which violence blossoms? What do we tell our children when finally, as it must, their innocence melts away and they learn of the snuffing out of human life that happens in closed back rooms all over this country, this world? What do we tell them when that violence is not only tolerated, but lauded by many as “progress”?
It’s taken me hours to write this, interrupted frequently by the needs of my five month old twins. I can’t stand outside death row right now. This is not a season of life for praying at the “clinic”. I barely manage a shower most days. I only wrote this by sheer power of determination coupled with willful ignorance of the dishes and laundry.
I cannot be a force for societal change in a big, important way. What I can do, however, is this: I can slowly start to pull out the seeds of violence trying to take up root in my heart. Anger. Impatience. Greed. I can till the soil of my soul and beg God to cultivate peace in me. I can take the words of Saint Francis’ prayer and try my best to live them each day. I can become a peacemaker. I can speak with peace to others, I can speak of peace with others. I can model peace to my children and family. With God’s grace, yes, even I can do these things. You can too. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Imagine what could happen if we each committed to becoming peacemakers, and to shining his light on hidden violence. Imagine what an army of peacemakers could do.