Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul." Mark Twain


Wednesday evening The Mister and I headed uptown to Riverside Church—a congregation that holds strongly against the death penalty—for a program that would include Mr. Thomas Cahill and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Cahill is the author of “A Saint On Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green.” The evening was filled with glorious musical performances and theatrical readings from the book. Thomas Cahill moved us profoundly in his telling of a friendship with Dominique Green and when his voice cracked with emotion, every one of us in the audience felt that same twinge in our hearts. He told of a friend, a former prisoner, who said he had never met a man in prison who had not been beaten by a father or a mother or brutalized in some way as a child. Cahill called prison that dreadful syndrome of man’s inhumanity to man. “If you’ve never been allowed to be a child, you will never become an adult.”

One of four who represented other faiths, a monk who spoke for the New York Buddhist Church, Sensei Nakagaki told of his struggle with America’s embrace of capital punishment. “When I came here and hear so much the word justice, I came to hate the word justice.”

When the elfin, self-deprecating Archbishop rose to the pulpit not a sound was heard in the packed pews of the cavernous church. Desmond Tutu spoke at length in a soft voice that never wavered from its gentleness and never shied from its purpose. He reminded us all that we, as a country, would never be admitted to the European Union which condemns capital punishment, making us, a leader of nations, a crippled outsider.

“Why do you do this when you are such lovely people? This is a mistake you won’t be able to correct. Tough luck? We made a mistake man. Why? Why?”

“What are you doing to yourselves, you wonderful generous people? What are you doing to yourselves? You are such a fantastic bunch of human beings.” And here he interrupted himself to chuckle, that he was not looking for anything from the audience, “…just now.”

“Whether you like it or not,” he continued still tenderly, “you are part of the system and it’s turning you into a violent people. For your own sakes, for the sake of the world: Please, please, please.”

“You destroyed Iraq on the basis of a lie.” The audience rippled with assent. “Reverence for life by taking a life? It’s one of the greatest obscenities. It is making you an obscene nation.”

“Gentleness, compassion, love will make our world a better place.” He looked across the crowd of faces, each upturned gaze riveted on him, and he scolded us tenderly. “You don’t give up on anyone. Please, please, please.”

The Mister and I left with the crowd, hearing his words all the way home: “Please, please, please.”

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