Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Beacon in the Darkness

19-year-old Jennifer Ross died on an operating room table a week after being shot while resisting a robbery attempt on Christmas Eve night last year . On Saturday, her convicted killer, 26-year-old Michael Thorpe, cursed and flipped the bird at the judge who sentenced him to life in prison plus 40 years for the girl's murder. I don't believe in the death penalty, but I do believe that Thorpe deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison for his crime.

I don't know what caused Thorpe to commit his terrible crime or to brag about it afterward. But I'd like to think that his sentence may deter others from following in his footsteps and will, at the very least, prevent Thorpe himself from repeating his crime. Yet, even though I don't believe that Thorpe should ever be released from prison, I hope that he finds a way to redeem himself in prison and to help others do the same. His outburst in court would not seem to bode well for his chances of accomplishing this. But I'd like to believe that at the core of every human being lies the wondrous possibility of a quantum leap in personal transformation. I say "I'd like to believe" because I'm not sure I really do. I've been around too long and witnessed too much human violence and depravity to feel convinced that we all possess the magical capacity to rise above the baser aspects of our nature.

However, I believe without question that at least some of us are in touch with a profound and glorious wisdom and strength that virtually no hardship or injustice can steal from us. Jennifer Ross' mother, Coren, reflected this in her remarkable statement after the sentencing. Rather than lash out in hatred and bitterness against her daughther's killer, she opened her heart to pour out her grief over her and her family's loss: "We are broken, both individually and collectively," she said. "Rusty [Jennifer's father] will not walk Jennifer down the aisle at her wedding ... I will not caress her pregnant tummy." But she proceeded to speak of how her daughter's death has at least occasioned an impending deployment of surveillance cameras in busy areas that may discourage future crimes, and she dispelled the notion that race (her daughter was white while her killer and his accomplices were black) played a role in her daughter's murder or in the conduct and outcome of the trial by sagely observing, "Jennifer's murder galvanized and energized everyone who heard about it because it showcased two mentalities, one which still believes you must work for what you want, and one which believes that you can take what someone else has worked for."

Finally, Coren Ross displayed extraordinary compassion when she said of the mothers of her daugher's killers, "We mothers have a whole lot more in common than some people might expect. My heart just breaks for them." Previously, just before the trial, she had said, "I believe these young men to be victims as much as anything else. There is part of me that would say to them, 'I'm so sorry that your life brought you to this point.'"

I am awed and inspired by the beauty of this woman's unconditional love, wisdom, and compassion in the face of awful tragedy. May we find it in ourselves to follow her resplendent example through whatever "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" may befall us.

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