Another brilliant piece of writing from What We See: Poems and Essays from Inside Juvenile Hall, illustrated by me (I didn’t do the illustration here) and edited by me and Mark Salzman.
The angel is coming at full speed in one direction, while the devil comes in the other. The devil with his pitchfork, running at full speed, aiming to hit the angel in the chest, all of a sudden stops with the force of the angel’s power.
The devil tells the angel that he is going to kill him and that he is going to go to hell, but the angel responds, “I am with God, and the only place I’m going is to his paradise.”
The devil then strikes him, sending him to eternal fire. The angel on his knees, weak, all of a sudden gets his energy back and strikes the devil with his wings and sends him to heaven.
There they are throwing blows, wrestling, doing what they can to win.
All of a sudden, they’re running full speed towards each other when they collide and become one.
That one is me.
We all have these two parts to ourselves. No one is better or more evil than someone else because of the color of their skin or where they grew up or how much education they’ve had, or anything like that. We all have the potential for good and evil.
I remember my dear friend, private investigator Casey Cohen who at that time (late 1990s) was considered one of the foremost authorities on the death penalty phase, told me, “I’ve sat and heard the confessions of some of the most evil criminals on the planet and I never judge them.”
When I asked why, he said, “It’s not my place. Look, two people can grow up in the same family and one can end up a criminal and the other one a saint. Is it because one is inherently evil and the other is inherently good? Absolutely not. It’s because each person is unique, down to their DNA, their health, their intelligence, there are a million unique reasons why a person ends up doing what they do. No crime happens suddenly, there is always a reason, always a story leading up to that point. And that’s for everyone, the people you are rooting for as good and the people you despise. No one has the right to self-righteously throw up their hands in horror and say, ‘I would never do that!’ about a criminal or an addict or even a politician, although I confess to having a bias against them, or a police officer, or whomever. Because you are uniquely you and you react based on who you are. If you reacted exactly like that criminal or that addict or politician, then you would BE them. If drugs have never been an issue for you, you can’t look down your nose at an addict and say, you should just stop. They can’t just stop. In fact, if they do stop, even for a day, they are showing more courage than you ever did because for you, it isn’t an issue.”
I never forgot that. Nothing is so simple, certainly not as simple as the media tries to make it out to be. We are being pitted against one another and we need to stop and use our brains and start thinking, wait a minute, I refuse to be led around like this. I refuse to just repeat these divisive sound-bites that are so easy for me to paste into my social media but that only reinforce negativity. I refuse to look at those people “over there” as my enemy. Because those people “over there” are doing the exact same thing, feeling fearful, wounded and justified. In this way, hatred and violence are perpetuated.
There is always a path to forgiveness, most importantly, the a path to forgiving ourselves. We should love ourselves based on honest introspection and love each other without bias.