Saturday, April 24, 2010

Day 114- Vacations, mercy, and death

Dear Mr. President,

I'm seriously considering proposing a state initiative to compel police officers to check immigration paperwork on any one who appears Canadian, (we're a border state, too, you know,) and I'd like to send Senator Lindsay Graham a patronizing book on the exciting journey of puberty, should he ever decide to grow up. You're on vacation this weekend, or, sort of a vacation, anyway. I'm on vacation myself this weekend, with three days off and plans to go climb a mountain tomorrow. You deserve a break, sir, even if the responsibilities of your office don't make anything like real relaxation possible.

A quiet story out of Utah caught my attention tonight. A man facing the death penalty has elected to do so by firing squad. A few experts have weighed in, indicating the possibility that such a death is actually more humane than lethal injection. This was interesting to me, first of all because I realized we still use firing squads in this country, and second because I'd just had a conversation with friends about how we'd like to die, if we had the choice. (I chose drowning. I like the ocean.) While I find being shot no worse and no more upsetting than lethal injection or hanging, I realize that most people have a visceral reaction to the barbarity of men lined up to gun down an unarmed man, while lethal injection is often tucked away in our minds as similar to drifting off to sleep; painless, bloodless, and clean.

I've long opposed the death penalty. I don't think that vengeance and justice go hand in hand, and I believe that any time men with guns or needles or a noose kill an unarmed, restrained prisoner (no matter how heinous the crimes committed) it is an unconscionable abuse of power. The abuse of power over another individual, especially those between a prisoner and the individuals and institutions that contain them, strikes me as truly horrifying. That this dynamic is laid bare when it is played out with a firing squad only serves to underscore how contrary the death penalty is to our values and sensibilities; if one cannot stomach the idea of a firing squad, a needle loaded with drugs ought not to be any different. Of course, this reasoning comes from the same place as my belief that any one OK with eating cows and chickens should be fine eating kittens, as well. It may make sense to me, but that doesn't mean I'm going to convince a majority of my fellow citizens.

You have a solemn duty to perform tomorrow, one which I do not envy you. When you approach this task, which, necessarily, requires you to consider, as Graham Greene called it, "the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God," I hope that you find a moment to appreciate how brief our lives are, the tragedy and catastrophe that lurks behind every moment, waiting to strike when we least expect it. Suffering and death will find all of us, in our own time, and I think the government should be out of the business of speeding that processes along, be it by war, execution or exploitation. There is enough in this life to try our ability to overcome the horrors of being alive; we need not, even in the name of justice, add any more.

I don't believe in God's mercy, Mr. President, but I do believe in yours.

Respectfully yours,


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