Finding balance in the second half of life

Looking for Redemption

In Community, Fulfillment on March 1, 2011 at 2:07 am

It was a small thing, but I remember it almost 30 years later: “I hate people who don’t turn off the water when they brush their teeth,” a friend said.

This probably hit me harder than it would strike other people. My family had some odd prohibitions. We weren’t allowed to curse, of course, but “hate” was also really strong language. We could hate tuna noodle casserole—well, as long as we ate it—but “I hate people” was a phrase that would have gotten me sent to my room, no matter how it was completed.

Of course perfectly lovable people have the bad habit of letting the water run while they brush. Surely something careless tooth-brushers might do could redeem them. And I really doubt that my friend meant what he said.

A few weeks ago I read Living Into Hope for a discussion group. Tucked inside, among other stories of reconciliation, is the story of Joan Brown Campbell’s 1999 trip to Kosovo to gain the release of American soldiers who’d been captured by the Yugoslavian military. These are the people who were part of the group, led by Reverent Jesse Jackson: three Serbian Orthodox bishops, a bishop from the Greek Orthodox Church, president of the board of the American Muslim Council, a Los Angeles rabbi, a bishop from the United Methodist Church, a Jesuit scholar and conflict-resolution specialist, and the Quaker director of Mercy Corps. Oh! And Rod Blagojevich.

Rod Blagojevich. Then a congressman from Illinois, more recently former governor, well-known for his hairstyle and his profane and self-serving wire-tapped telephone conversations, the latter eventually leading to his impeachment.

I will admit that I snorted. Probably out loud. So it was a very good thing that my friend Kay said that she loved that he was on this list. “Really?” I said, unable to disguise my incredulity.

“I love that he had a moment of redemption,” Kay said.

Ah. Yes. This is why we need insightful friends: They’ll say the right things to keep us honest and humble.

I’m thinking about this because of the way that groups and organizations are made villains right now. There’s the attraction of simplicity, of course, in seeing things as all good or all bad, all black or all white. But the simplicity of that oppositional view is overwhelmed by the complexity of all the conflict it engenders.

My brother had a biography of Jesse James when we were kids. The opening paragraph made us laugh and laugh. I don’t recall it word for word, of course, but it ran something like this: “Jesse James was a thief without conscience, a heartless torturer, and a vicious murderer. But he loved his mother.”

If I asked Kay, I’m sure she’d say it was a redeeming quality.

–Lois Maassen

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  1. I am assuming this is Lois, as you don’t sign your articles! I love this topic, and I am right there with Kay. We are all flawed in our humanity, a combination of good and bad traits. One of my favorite fallen human beings is Elliot Spitzer. Yes, he paid for sex. But who, before or after him, has ever been so tough on the criminals of Wall Street? He was absolutely fearless as Attorney General of New York. We could have used him these past two years. Inappropriate behavior deserves a response, but often, in our society, it is so out of proportion to the offense, and it is all about our “black and white” mentality.

    • You’re right, it is Lois–I always forget to put my name on, so thanks for reminding me. Yes, Spitzer is another great example. I’m really puzzled by the “all or nothing” mental frame right now. Or has it always been this dominant? The founders, I think, worked really hard to find that little slice of agreement, that excellent contribution each person could make. Perhaps what was at stake was more clear?

  2. […] I was brushing my teeth the other day (with the water off), I heard that  Republicans have switched back to using Styrofoam in the Capitol instead of […]

  3. Lois, it hasn’t always been this way. There used to be more respect for privacy. JFK’s infidelity was an issue for his marriage only. FDR’s disability was hidden from the general public. In an environment where everything is dealt with harshly, you have lots of freedom to go after whoever you don’t like, because you can always find a reason to do so. Look at this 60 minutes clip on the former governor of Alabama. I am still stunned to think of how folks tried to manufacture infidelity out of thin air…

    http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=3870545n

    Not to mention the so-called “War on Drugs” that has increased the number of incarcerated Americans five-fold since 1980. Drug use is so prevalent, but using the criminal justice system selectively, you can put away folks you don’t like. Drugs are a medical problem and should be treated as such.

    Watch the video on Siegelman. You will be shcoked!

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