When I was just a wee sasquatch of a boy, I used to hold Skeletor like a swaddled baby, rocking him gently to sleep. I have no recollection of this, but this happens to be one of the treasured memories one of my Canadian aunts has of me. For those of you not up to par on your “Masters of the Universe” malevolent characters, Skeletor is the arch-villain of He-Man and looks like a muscle-bound angel of death, complete with a skeleton face and stylish purple hoody. To the naked eye, seeing a child attribute infant innocence to a figurine depicting the incarnation of evil might very well conjure feelings of concern. One might even conclude that the child is bewitched or is the Antichrist in toddler form, but to my Aunt Lynda, this was the first fruit of a compassionate heart.
It’s easy to judge people. In a society that celebrates vengeance in our films and champions the crucifying of celebrities and corrupt officials, it wouldn’t hurt to pump the breaks and put down the pitchforks long enough to take a better look at the supposed monsters we have gathered against. In the ancient Hebrew account, Samson played that fateful game of “eye for an eye” and in the end wound up being blind. He lit foxes on fire and incinerated the fields of his enemies only to find himself later grasping the ashy remains of his beloved wife.
The moral of the story points to how righteous zeal can ricochet in the most tragic of ways and how mercy might have manifested a better ending.
As tempting as it is to jump on the bandwagon of burning someone else down, it is far better to ask your mob to use their torches for light instead of heat. Maybe then, you could see the illuminated humanity of what you thought was a hideous beast.
As someone who has been dangerously endowed with herculean empathy, I find most of what dominates our news to be insipid witch hunts. Empathy is the cure for the “us versus them” worldview, but it’s also the curse that connects us intimately with the sometimes excruciating pain of others, which is why so many of us choose to disconnect from it. Like many of you, I have nightmarish memories seared into my psyche by childhood traumas. When I was just a kid, I accidentally stepped on a puppy that was snuggled under a towel just outside a doorway at my friend’s house, killing it. It was the runt of the litter, which happened to be my favorite. When I was teenager, I was catching some sweet air on a three-wheeler out in our pasture when I heard the cries of a baby rabbit I had accidentally run over. I held the dying bunny in my hands praying for God to heal it. In both cases, I felt like a monster, like the angel of death. My only comfort was the empathetic embrace of family and friends afterwards.
Last week, Brandt Jean was given the opportunity to address the woman who killed his brother. Channeling the crucified Nazarene, he empathetically extended the scepter of peace to her bloodstained conscience and personified the true essence of scandalous grace. Amber Guyger made a tragic snap judgement creating a hellish prison for the Jean family and for herself. The prison bars were forged both by her execution of haste and the haste of her execution. Inside that prison, Brandt gazed into her tormented skeleton face and hugged her humanity. Let us go and do likewise.
PAUL MICHAEL JONES is an artist who currently dabbles in music, photography and creative writing.