115. Mercy


It’s like this– you screwed up, failed, did wrong, acted like an animal. You are not proud of your immoral or illegal behaviors. You are not bragging about them. In fact, you are hoping somehow to find a time machine and go back to that very moment in time where you could magically undo the wrongdoing. But you can’t. You’re stuck; guilty. You have something like moral or legal credit card debt. You have no money or anything to pledge against the debt. It’s astronomical. And the person you owe is looking into your fear-filled eyes. You imagine the worst– jail time, a beating, a bankruptcy, unending shame…and you hear instead, “I forgive the debt. It is cancelled.”

Mercy, as Shakespeare once said so beautifully, is twice blessed. It blesses the giver and the receiver. Whereas Justice in the previous post was about extracting punishment or payment of some kind in order to settle the debt, mercy is about letting punishment or payment go. Whew, we could use a lot more mercy in our lives, not in movies and books, mind you, but in real situations and relationships. If you have ever cancelled a debt owed to you, then you can attest to the sense of decency you feel as a result of forgiving another person for a debt or a hurt. However, if you have received mercy from another person, you never forget it. Shakespeare compared it to the rain.

“The quality of mercy is not strained.
It  droppeth as the gentle rain from  heaven
Upon  the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives, and him  that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
The thronèd  monarch better than his crown.”

Sounds to me like the gift of mercy is gently God-given first. Then, if you practice mercy in this life and this world, it makes you better, stronger and more impressive than a king’s crown, especially if you are a mover and shaker. Your acts of mercy will resonate louder and longer than the common guy’s mercy. Think about it:: if you pardon a death row inmate, he still dies. But if your state’s governor pardons him, he lives. Mercy is potentiated as it is practiced at higher levels of society.

Merci in French means “thanks”, and I think it’s the appropriate response to the gift of  mercy. “Oh, thank you, my bondsman! You forgave and took away my debt.”

When I think of examples in my life of being forgiven, for some reason I recall my landlord in Vienna, Virginia. His name was Nick Starr, and he was very kind to me and my young bride. When winter came that year, 1979, he told me over the phone that he’d been meaning to build storm windows for the little house we rented from him. He asked me to count and measure the windows. I did (mis) count and (mis) measure the windows. Then one Sunday afternoon we built the frames at his lovely home in Oakton. I remember so well that his wife served pasta for lunch and spoke of when they had been stationed in Switzerland, I believe. He worked for the CIA, folks…shhhh. This is just between you and me, Bloggoiters. We built 13 window frames and primed them. Nick was going to glaze the glass in later.

Sure enough a week later he arrived on a brisk Saturday morning with a load of windows. We began the work of trying to fit the storms into the frames I had sort of measured. It was agonizing. Not a single one fit. Each needed to be shaved down a bit here or there. And then there was the 13th window that had no frame. Boy, did I feel stupid and small and useless. I waited for the blast that did not come as he looked for the 13th frame for the window he held in his hands. He kindly sighed and said, “We all make mistakes.” I thought to myself, ‘He didn’t drop the bomb on me. He just stayed on task and solved the problem, no drama.’ I felt off balance with the unexpected treatment.

Later that year Nick replaced the back steps off the glass porch. Again, I “helped”.   by holding the dumb end of the tape and the other end of boards that he sawed. When he was putting the steps together and securing them to the porch wall, Nick opened a new quart of stain. As he turned to get a brush, the can toppled and every drop of stain soaked into the dirt. “Ohhhhh, daggonit!!!” and maybe another expletive or two were uttered. I waited for the explosion of rage that did not come. It was over. His few words and gutteral sounds evaporated into the air much like the stain had been absorbed by the dirt a minute ago. Gone. I suppose this was another example of forgiving oneself, another slice of mercy pie. In any event I am recalling something that impressed me 34 years ago. But wait, there’s an irony or two ahead.

In 1993 Nick was one of the victims of a terrorist shooting at the gates of the CIA. Two folks were killed. He was one of three injured. The shooter, Aimal Qazi, was a nut case from Pakistan, who fled there after the shooting. Incidentally, he used an AK 47 that he “legally” purchased at a gun store in Reston, Virginia. Which might make a thoughtful person wonder out loud, “How can someone who enters the U.S.A. illegally on forged documents legally buy a semiautomatic weapon of mass destruction? Oh, wait… cuz the NRA says you can and the Commonwealth of Virginia is complicit with such stupidity.

It took the FBI four years to track and arrest Qazi. It took another five years to prosecute and execute him. Meanwhile, I suppose, Nick retired from the Agency and moved away to New England. How do I know these things?  I was watching the morning news on the day of Qazi’s execution and Nick was interviewed from New Hampshire or Vermont. Boom! I hadn’t seen the man in all the years since 1980…22 years… and it clicked in my head. The interviewer wanted to know if Qazi should be granted mercy.

The short answer was “NO”. The longer version may have had something in it about not granting anyone else mercy. Qazi extracted justice in his own mind. In the drama that he ignited, he received jutice on a global level. A merciful man refused him mercy, which speaks to the wickedness of the offender not to the mercy of the merciful man. Back in New England Nick struggled with the consequences of his injuries. In Pakistan Qazi’s supporters built a mosque in his name. In the name of Mercy, No Thanks.

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