Life and Death

>New Jersey today became the first state in more than three decades to abolish the death penalty. I live in New Jersey and have a 14-year-old daughter so this was not an easy subject for me to find my bearings on. If you recall, it was in 1994 that 7-year-old Meagan Kanka was abducted, raped and then strangled to death by 46-year-old Jesse Timmendequas. It was that horrific crime that led to the passage of “Meagan’s Law” and the federal “Sex Offender Act of 1994” both of which place post-incarceration restrictions and reporting duties upon persons convicted of sexual crimes against children.
    This is a tough subject and one not easily approached by someone who has never had a loved one harmed, violated or murdered. I cannot imagine how a parent feels who loses a child or (if lucky enough to have their child survive an attack) lives with a child who was subject to such inhumanity and abuse. It would be easy to understand why parents, under those conditions, might want to see “justice done” by knowing the perpetrator, if captured, was put to death.
    Yet I marvel when I see parents or loved ones of a murder victim on television, or in print interviews, express their “forgiveness” and advocate that no higher purpose would be served by executing the murderer. It’s a natural reaction if one wonders, “Where do those people get that kind of strength?”
    I think I know.
    It comes from a deep knowing that there are Universal Laws that provide us with the opportunity to heal not only ourselves but all of humankind as well. One of those laws is surely that killing another human being for any reason carries with it consequences and ramifications that go well beyond both the individuals and the moment. Violence begets violence. Even if you couch it in “humane” terms and conditions…lethal injections, blindfolds, whatever…the veil is transparent and serves only to hide the truth from those who are determined not to see it. Yes, violence begets violence.
    One of the 8 men who have been on death row in New Jersey is Jesse Timmendequas, Megan Kanka’s murderer. He will now spend the rest of his life in prison without possibility of parole. I have thought about the two alternatives, death vs. life imprisonment, in light of this particular case and here is how I see it.
    If we, as a people, put Jesse Timmendequas to death, we violate one of those Universal laws we know in our hearts to be true…and with some distinction (although not enough) we become somewhat more like him than not. If, however, he lives out his life in prison, there are two possibilities.
    The first is that unenlightened and without remorse, his freedom and quality of life are taken away and he remains like a caged animal for whatever time is his by design. If, on the other hand, he gains some enlightenment and feels some level of remorse, then he will live every waking moment and breath every life-sustaining breath with the knowledge and reality of the heinous and inhuman act he committed. Either way, imprisoned for life, his is a damned fate.
    Which leaves me with Megan’s family. How to justify the continued life of the man who took the one gifted to their daughter? I would not begin to try.
    What I would say to them is that another of those Universal Laws is that failing to forgive is a prison of it’s own making…one in which they would keep themselves bound for no reason at all. The murderer’s prison is real and necessary. Not so theirs. They are free not only to forgive him but to forgive Life as well for such seeming injustice.
    We are human and because of that limitation too often see only part of the picture, thereby missing what the whole canvas portrays. Megan Kanka gave her life so that countless other children might be spared suffering and harm. It was a life so very well spent.
    May her family live on, and move on, with both honor and forgiveness in their hearts.

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