Though I always enjoy Holy Week and the wonderful rituals of our church which are re-enacted during this time, this year was more powerful than in past years. Of course, as is true for most people, there is a lot going on in my life and with my family and friends. But one fairly new part of my journey is my friendship with a person who is on death row. I began this journey with much thoughtful reflection because I know that it is very important not to reach out to people in such circumstances if the offer of hospitality will not be ongoing.
So with the assistance of my dear friends at the Open Door, an intentional Christian community providing hospitality to the homeless and folks in prison and on death row, I was able to connect to someone with whom I could correspond and eventually begin visiting. After about three months, I was ready to visit and chose to spend Martin Luther King’s Birthday visiting with him. Thus far, I have been able to visit three times. My Easter Day visit was the best one yet. It was great to be able to visit without having a glass wall between us and having to use a telephone to speak to one another.
Someone asked me what we talked about. How odd to wonder what one would talk about with a person simply because the person is on death row. We talked about the same kinds of things that I talk about with many of my friends. One really neat part of the conversation was our simple sharing about our faith and how we see our journeys with God.
I am deeply committed to staying focused upon the deep sense that I have about God’s amazing love and acceptance of everyone who is walking on this Earth. There are no exceptions and the realization of that truth is very liberating. My friend actually commented about his being aware of not feeling as if I am judging him in any manner. It is true that I am not. My task is to show hospitality and to be willing to allow myself to be used in any way possible to share light and love on death row and to be open to the gifts that are there waiting for me.
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Yesterday as I sat in the visiting area along with a small group of others like me, friends and families of men who have been condemned to death by the state, I had a very strange sense of how peculiar the entire set of circumstances were for all of us. We were sharing the highly overpriced food from the vending machines and laughing and talking as if we were having a simple social gathering. Yet, the men with whom we were sharing live with the knowledge they will die either at the hands of the state or simply from natural causes, but most will more than likely never be free again. Yet the human spirit is able to rise above that fact and embrace the gift of a visit from family and friends.
This experience is teaching me something about doing what you can even when what you can do is quite limited. It will be transformative, though I do not know in what ways. Clearly this is not something I can do without being changed. I will be careful to pay attention to my thoughts and feelings as I continue on this journey.
While I have been opposed to the death penalty for as far back as I can remember, my visits have made that opposition even stronger. I agree with Gandhi that, “if we keep living with an eye for an eye mentality, we will end up with the whole world blind.” We are progressing well toward making the whole world blind.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.