Thursday, August 23, 2007

What does "apology" mean?

Normally my rule is to never write anything when I am very angry. I am going to break that rule with this post.

It was hard not to read this report in today’s National Post newspaper without crying. I couldn’t do it, maybe you can.

In May of 2006, two young pieces of garbage were driving irresponsibly and caused the death of the parents of an eight-year old girl. The National Post reports her reading a letter in court, talking about her family.

Katie read haltingly from her statement, including holding up her hand-drawn picture of the last time she saw her parents: in their coffins at a funeral home after the deadly crash.
But she also said she tried to keep good memories of them. "I loved the way my mom and dad would always bring things home for me; my mom would bring me a toy cow and my dad would bring me candy," she said. "When it was winter, my dad would shovel the snow and make a ramp for me to sled down and I really had a lot of fun sledding down that."
Katie said after the hearing that it was difficult to read the statement, but she had wanted to do it for her mom and dad. "It's pretty painful to talk about them," she told a crowd of reporters outside the Newmarket courthouse. "I was feeling sad. At the end of the statement, I could hardly read it 'cause my eyes were too watery."
So were mine, dear Katie, so were mine.

During the sentencing hearing, the two men convicted of the May 27, 2006, crash that killed Rob and Lisa Manchester looked fixedly at the floor during Katie's brief statement, avoiding eye contact with her or the victims' family and friends.

From the account of the trial carried in more local press, we read of the circumstances that the defense attorney asks to be brought to bear on the sentencing:

[Mr. Rodrigues’ attorney] is asking for a conditional sentence between 18 months and two years less a day for his client, followed by community service and a driving ban left to the discretion of the court.

The fact Mr. Rodrigues has pleaded guilty shows remorse, Mr. West said, also noting he wrote a letter of apology to Katie.
He wrote a letter of apology! How are we supposed to react to that fact?? "All is well. Let’s lessen the punishment, let’s let him off more easily, he wrote a letter of apology."
What possible difference, in a sincerely remorseful human being, would such a letter make to the judgements weighing his fitting punishment. I suppose in the court of public opinion, the absence of any such letter would weigh against him… but in the court of law I see no earthly reason why such a letter should weigh in the balance **for him**. Has our understanding of the covenental relationship that exists all around us, as enveloping as the air we breathe, so deteriorated that remorse has become exceptional enough to warrant such weight? He'd damn well better be apologizing, as naturally as breathing, for the lives he has taken out of this girl's future.

If he is apologetic as he claims to be, then step up and balance that little girl’s loss by accepting the duty, as your late contribution to our national covenant, to give her a re-newed confidence in the belief that human beings should atone for their mistakes. Because of your actions, her parents aren't around any more to teach her that lesson themselves. Remake your lives into an example sufficient to atone for the loving example you removed by your actions. You acted like boys when you made your mistake, now pay for the consequences of those actions by taking your punishment like a Man: accept the full load of punishment judged appropriate, and take no action to escape your debt.

If the apologist was sincerely repentant, if he did "think a second time" (the very definition of re-pentance), he would admit it’s in the best long-term interests of his conscience to refuse to weasel out of anything less than the full measure of the punishment that should be coming his way. If the client were sincerely respectful, he would look that girl and her extended family in the eyes ("granting a second look" being the very definition of re-spect) to gain the strength of character to embrace the full application of justice in this case.

We can understand many things about the people with whom we share this world, but we can never know what lies deep within the heart of another. We can only approach an authentic understanding by observing how people behave, what their actions are (and are not). Patterns, not individual incidents... and definitely not words. You can "say" anything… but what do you "do"? That’s something I can measure, because it's on display for all to see. I therefore look for encouraging signs that will let me soften the rage I feel for these two murderers, and I try to leave room for them to prove to me that the full extent of my fury is misplaced.

They both pleaded guilty, so at least they’ve got that degree of honesty going for them. Community service, rather than idleness in jail, can serve to partially re-plenish the hole that now needs to be filled. Whatever the final sentence turns out to be, I hope they can re-form the covenant with society that they have shattered. What was taken away will never be re-joined, but if they do accept their place as a part within the whole, I pray they'll work to re-strict the likelihood that others in their age group will choose to re-ject the covenant as they did.

We may not choose our life's circumstances but we do choose our reactions to them. We can choose to believe that the covenant that we share with all other human beings is one that we have the option to accept or decline. I don't believe we possess any such option; we join through the act of being born. (Who said life was fair?) "Community service" truly starts the moment we arrive within our community, and we fulfill our role within the community by being of continued service.

The burdensome terms of this covenant might seem to be negotiable; that one can choose to participate more or less fully, living up more or less to one's obligations of service to one's fellows. This is an illusion we all shamefully allow ourselves, to varying degrees, out of immature infantilism; only in infancy are we considered forgiven for believing the world to revolve around us. Thereafter we are expected to appreciate our humble place in orbit alongside everyone else. Time for these two to finally dis-illusion themselves, and grow into their sudden responsibilities, of what it means to be part of the covenant we find ourselves in, like it or not.

By your chosen actions, through your own fault, you've broken one of the most valuable constructs of our shared commitment to each other: a Family is no longer whole. Let's see you live up to your words, that if you are truly apologetic in your heart as well as in your mouth, that you manfully accept as punishment the judgement of that brave young girl, and follow the consequences of her sentence to the full extent of the courage that your strong young hearts can push you to endure:

[H]er message to the two men convicted in the deaths of her parents was simple:
"I would say to them that [they should be] ashamed of themselves…"

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