Thursday, 22 September 2011

A numb day.

Trying to sort through the numbness and outrage of Troy Davis’s execution yesterday and find some peace about it all.

At first I was just overwhelmed with horror by what happened.

After the four-hours-plus stop on the execution made at five to seven (it was due to be carried out at seven), the Supreme Court set the process in motion again.  Strapped to the gurney ready for the lethal chemicals to be poured into his veins, Troy Davis was given an opportunity to speak his last words.

He spoke first to the representatives of the MacPhail family who had come to witness his execution.  He told them he was sorry for their loss, but that he wanted them to know he had not been responsible for Mark MacPhail’s death – he had not even had a gun with him on that night.  For their own sake and that of others he urged them to dig deeper and keep looking, because he was the wrong man.

Then he spoke to his family and friends, exhorting them to keep working, keep praying and keep the faith.

And he spoke last to those standing by ready to take his life, saying ‘God have mercy on your souls,’ and ‘God bless your souls’.  And then they put him to death.

I waited and watched until Democracy Now (whose Amy Goodman covered the occasion with such compassion and sensitivity) went off air, by then about 4.30am English time, and eventually managed to still my mind enough to grab a little sleep before the sun rose.

But when I woke again this morning, none of the turmoil had gone away.  I could hardly believe what we had witnessed.  Particularly my mind balked at the idea that we have constructed a human community in which a man in the prime of life should be taken away, despite the conviction of hundreds and thousands of us watching that his guilt had by no means been proven beyond doubt, and that all of us should be required to sit nicely and be good, causing no trouble while someone dripped poison into his veins until he died.  What?   It seemed intensely oppressive and cruel.

But as I thought on it a different perspective came to mind, and I realised that what I had been watching was not people cowed and obedient, but people dignified and free.  This is what non-violent protest is.  These people were not intimidated, but sure in their cause and conviction and unswerving in their quiet determination.  I think it was Ben Jealous who said last night that this will not go away; this will not end here – this is the beginning.  Christians certainly understand how that works.

But my main emotion through this beautiful autumn day has been terrible aching sadness.  As I felt the soft breeze in my hair and smelled the garden herbs and delighted in the sunshine, it hurt like a wound in me that these simple wonders of life should have been denied Troy Davis, not only finally last night, but for so long.

There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet things; there's likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die? (George Lavengro)

I think Troy must have been twenty years old when he went to prison for the crime that with his last breath he continued to insist he did not commit.  For twenty-two years he has lived without the wonderful freedoms that make life so sweet.  Between us, we threw a life away.

Sitting here in bed at the end of the day, in the lamplight, listening to the owls calling in the garden, or hanging out the washing to dry in the warm breeze, or sitting by the ocean on a summer day, walking through the woods in the Fall,  I shall think of Troy Davis, and how we took that away from him, when life was neither ours to give nor to take away. 

Some things affect you so profoundly that they get into the very core of you and change the points, make the way you see things different forever.  I felt that happening as I sat in vigil last night, keeping watch through the English night with the silent crowd in Georgia, holding their candles as they stood behind the rank of riot police, or huddled together in prayer in the group of family and friends just outside the prison – felt the seismic shift in my soul connecting to a deep place in all humanity.  As people around the world stood in solidarity, watching, praying . . . hoping with sudden wild possibility . . . then stunned and grieving . . . I knew that life would never be the same again.  History will be different because more than a million people begged for clemency, and the public servants used the trust vested in them to say “No.”

I shall not forget that night.  Never.  I am not the kind of person who forgets.  In time the wound in my soul will silver to a scar, but it will always be there – because, as the campaigners said, you are – we are – I am Troy Davis.  Every single one of us.  Even Annaliese Macphail, who said “I think I finally will have peace of mind. When it is over I can close that book and I know Mark can rest in peace, too.”

I wonder.  The world is not the same as it was yesterday afternoon.



Ganeida said...

Peace, Peace ~ but there is no peace.

You will have read Hosea & know what God said to those who betrayed the trust He gave unto them.

I am adamantly against the death penalty ~ even when guilt has been proven beyond reasonable doubt. It is not for us to take life & how ironic that a people who are so adamantly anti~abortion on one hand are often the very same people who support the death penalty. Nor do I think it is for us to take away a person's chance for salvation. While they live there is hope that God can redeem them. Once they are dead we have condemed them to more than just death. I know that theology is not yours but as I believe that how on earth could I condone something I believe may also condem a man to hell for all eternity?

On so many fronts this is outrageous. I grieve for what we, as a people, have become but God is still God & working out His purposes according to His good will for our benefit & though I do not understand yet I will put my trust in the One who saves.

You did what you could, with grace, mercy & knindness. That is more than many others. The mirical is so many others agreed & stood with you.

Julie said...

I was not numb. I was angry and afraid. My son is 6-years-old. He is a very cute, amicable boy who will grow into a large, very large black man. He is Troy Davis. Race plays a role in the imposition of the death penalty, especially when the defendant is black and the victim was white. And, I feel totally unprepared as to how to address the topic of race, justice and prejudice with him. How do I prepare him for this reality without crushing his loving spirit?

Perhaps there is hope for humanity though. The family of James Craig Anderson has asked the judge in the trial of his killers not to pursue the death penalty. Of course, Anderson is black and the defendants are white. Perhaps they would have gotten life in prison whether the family wished it or not.

Sad day...

Ember said...

Ganeida - Well said friend. One of the things I found so painful in the last few days was silence from women on Facebook. The souls who will flock to comment on a headcovering or the modesty of a skirt or the style of a bonnet or the ingredients of a whoopie pie, had nothing to say whatever about a man's life hanging in the balance as his community refused to have mercy. And it is my belief that God doesn't give a monkey's if when the sun shines people can see through my skirt to my legs, because what He has his mind on is seeing through the veneer of apparel and outward form to my heart. x

Julie - My son-in-law is from Georgia. My daughter (his wife) said to me yesterday that when he came to the UK she couldn't really believe him when he said how racist is that part of the world, but that with time and further acquaintance she has come to realise he was not exaggerating at all. I feel no doubt in my mind that if Troy Davis had been a white middle class boy, and Mark MacPhail a black homeless boy, the outcome would have been very different indeed. From what I have read of the things Troy said, I believe part of what kept him so strong and graceful was the fire burning in him that what had befallen him could be used to change things. And by God's grace, may we do exactly that. I pray that this is a turning point; that Troy Davis's death will stand forever in history as a marker that we do not have to do things this way. x

Ember said...

Message for Roberta
Thank you for the email you sent (I couldn't find an email address to respond to you by replying). Yes, I will check out the website you mentioned (its name seemed familiar). Do you Facebook? You can find me there as Pen Wilcock if you wanted to add me as a friend.

Anonymous said...

That was beautifully put and without a trace of (understandable) anger.

Ember said...

Thanks, friend. Nice to see you online! :0)

Julie B. said...

I agree with everything Ganeida wrote so well.

Ember said...


Linda said...

When I can't understand something like that I think about how many people don't exercise their vote.

Linda said...

Penelope you are doing so much already. Your novels would have a different way of looking at things. Because it is sold in the US it must help. Your attitude would be subtley? different.

Ember said...

Hi Linda :0) Good to hear from you! x