Last week, Texas ended last meal requests for death row inmates. Texas decided to stop the practice not for the cost but because they “are moving away from the concept.” (source)
The change is spearheaded by Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire (D) who wrote in his letter to the head of the Department of Criminal Justice in Texas:
I have long been concerned and opposed to the practice of providing a last meal of choice to death row inmates just prior to their execution. It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege. One which the perpetrator did not provide to their victim. (source)
I grimaced at the last sentence because it is an oft used idea to defend all sorts of actions and decisions.
He cut me off so I flicked him off.
She never listened to me so why should I listen to her.
He was mean so I never spoke to him again.
She pushed so I pushed back.
He was rude so I cut him down to size.
Of course, these pale in comparison to why a person would be on death row, but we, on the outside, are supposed to be examples of how to live. Who better to show compassion to than the person who is unwilling or unable to show it themselves?
Who cares if you’re compassionate to a compassionate person? I’m not impressed that people love Jesus. He seems to be a very lovable man. He was usually kind, comfortable in his own skin, tolerant and loving of others. Sounds like an easy person to have compassion for.
I could sit around with Martin Luther King, Jr and Buddha all day. Feeling good. Caring about them.
But that’s not really the point of compassion.
Can we care for, love and show compassion to the people who make us weep for humanity? The rude drivers, the mean relatives, the death row inmates? What does it feel like to carry compassion for the people who do not reciprocate?
Well, it’s hard. It’s hard to love the unlovely. Often, we don’t get accolades or thank yous.
But I cannot let other people dictate who I am and who I want to be. And when another person’s actions alter my behavior, I am doing just that. I am giving them the power to decide how I will live my life. I want to be compassionate, caring, generous and kind, but when those values are dependent upon what other are doing or being or acting or have done, I am none of these characteristics. They are merely words and ideas that sounds very nice.
The truly kind are kind no matter who or what is happening.
Can I always be compassionate in the face of anything and everything? No. I hate people who hurt my family. I hate people who don’t know how to drive. I hate people who judge even while I stand in judgment of their judging. But when I let the hate become actions, I am living to merely bounce off other people’s behaviors. I am not really living at all.
Is it even compassion when it’s easy? These values and virtues that many strive for and even more give lip service to, go beyond sitting around with like-minded friends. Maybe they are only felt and lived when they are upheld amidst hatred, cruelty and anger.
Compassion does not mean a person, who has done a horrible act, should not be punished. But perhaps, a prison library or a last meal is a reminder that there was another way to live. No matter what is done to us, we will continue to live in love. We are showing a man on death row, and in turn the whole world, that compassion has survived.