Dzhokhar Tsarnaev spoke those words this afternoon in a courtroom in Boston, just before being sentenced to death for killing 4 people and maiming many others in the Boston Marathon bombing.
I don’t claim to understand what leads people like him (or Dylann Roof) to acts of evil. In fact, it’s a constant puzzlement to me to try and wrap my brain around how someone could get to the point at which they believe it’s not only justifiable but perhaps necessary and desirable to kill innocent strangers who have done them no harm.
As one of my commenters mentioned, nothing happens in a vacuum. The Tsarnaev brothers had parents and siblings, and the older of the two had a wife and child. Surely, their families grieve as much as their victims do. As hard as it is for me to understand what they did, I’m sure it’s far more difficult for people who knew and loved them to come to grips with their actions.
I understand why people in other countries and cultures dislike or even hate the United States, which for me is both my home and my people. Our country has done some terrible things over its history, and it’s natural for people to want revenge or payback. In the wake of 9/11, a British writer said that sometimes bullies get their noses bloodied. He was roundly criticized for saying so, probably because of the apparent glee with which he said it, but I think that captures some of what motivates some people. When you see a country or political system as inherently corrupt or evil (see “The Great Satan”), it’s easy to see its members as something less than human, as mere parts of the larger machinery, and thus fair game for killing. I was in New York last week, and it struck me how strange it was for people to attack ordinary people at their place of work in the World Trade Center and its immediate environs. But for the killers, the buildings (and its occupants) were symbols of oppression, not humans, so they could apparently glorify God by murdering them.
There’s a guy I know who spends a lot of time attacking everything Mormon, no matter what. He believes the LDS church as an institution is evil, or so it seems, so he figures that anything he can use against it is justified. But he hurts people. He attacks and ridicules not just bad policies or behaviors, but he goes after people and their most personal beliefs. I know in the past I was guilty of much the same thing. (I’m not saying it’s wrong to criticize other people’s beliefs, but you can do so without hate and bitterness, which are sorely lacking with some people.) The best relationships I have with people of differing faiths and cultures than mine are with those I’ve come to know through personal interaction. As I said in my last post, it is harder to hate the people you interact with every day, though obviously that doesn’t stop some people.
Is it important to try to understand what motivates people to do terrible things? Yes, of course, but understanding doesn’t always mean you can stop it. I understand what motivates the guy who attacks Mormonism and Mormonism, but I can’t stop him from doing it. I can and do tell him to mellow out and consider the effects on his friends and family. When all is said and done, you have to live with yourself and own your actions, and it’s better to figure that out before you destroy the relationships that matter.
It took me a while to get there, and I’m always a little saddened, though not surprised, that for some people I will always be defined by things I’ve done in the past. I can’t help that, but I don’t blame people for holding a grudge. I’d probably hold one against me, too. But I’m grateful that in the process of working through my personal issues, I’ve learned to forgive. Forgiveness is what helped me to get all the hurt and anger out of my heart, though apparently some people think it’s still there. Again, I can’t help that.
Cheap jokes about extra n’s and bad haircuts aside, I’ve been deeply moved by the outpouring of love and forgiveness in the wake of the shootings in Charleston and these words spoken to by Bill Richard to the man who murdered his 8-year-old son: “We choose love. We choose kindness. We choose peace.”
And it is a choice, but it’s an ongoing choice you must make over and over, maybe even every day. It gets easier with time, but you have to resist those who want to pull you back into the cycle of anger and recrimination. Part of being genuinely sorry, I think, is accepting that you may never be sorry enough for some people, and that’s OK. You can’t undo your actions or the effects they have on others, so saying your sorry is never really going to be enough. In this way, perhaps apologies must be open-ended. Forgiveness also must be infinite.
I learned that in a very small degree several years ago when a man broke into our home in Utah. A drug addict, he was looking for money or jewelry (of course, one of the perks of having a large family and one income is that you have nothing of value in your home). Unfortunately, my daughter, who was then 16, was home alone at the time. She called me at work from her hiding place in the downstairs shower, terrified. I will never forget arriving home to find my house surrounded by police cars, the burglar handcuffed face down in the street. After I found my daughter and calmed her down, I saw the guy again in the back of a squad car, and for a brief moment, I felt this surge of rage, and I wanted to go over and beat him to a bloody pulp. It took me some time to forgive the man and try to understand the circumstances of his life that led him to such a pathetic and desperate place. Later, when we faced him in the courtroom, I told him I forgave him, and I meant it. Then he spoke. He complained that we had hurt him because the story had been on the evening news, and his family had been shamed. I could feel the anger rising in my throat again, and afterward I wondered if I really had forgiven him. I realized that it was going to be a process, one that might go on for a while.
So, yes, choose love. Choose kindness. Choose peace. But make them an ongoing choice, a habit, a pattern. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.