I have always loved reading Stephen King novels. They keep me on the edge of my chair, bed, couch–wherever I perch to do a marathon read. I say marathon because I know that when I start one of his books, I will be there until the last page is turned and the last word read. Sure, I can lay the book down to go to the bathroom or grab something to eat, but I know I won’t. I will take it with me, reading as I do what has to be done to survive to the end of the book.
For me, there is always an underlying moral I glean from reading his work. Sure, it is scary or tense or both (I will never look at clowns the same way after reading IT) but there is a humanness and a part of myself in every reading. So it was and still is with his novel The Green Mile. If you haven’t read it or seen the subsequent movie, it is about a man with supernatural powers to rectify the evil in life but is sentenced to die because he is believed to be a murderer of two young girls. Spoiler–he didn’t do it and tried but failed to resurrect those young lives. He was holding them when found. The story goes on to show how his head guard, who will ultimately make sure he rides “the lightning” (electric chair) to his death, comes to realize just how special this man is. John Coffey is the prisoner’s name and his innocence creates a dilemma for the keeper of death row who sees what a truly wise and good man John Coffey is, and yet he is bound by law to execute him.
John Coffey, through the touch of another prisoner, becomes privy to who actually murdered the two girls and the manner in which it was accomplished. He shares this with the man who will carry out the execution and it is emotional and gut wrenching for both of them. John Coffey makes a statement that left me stunned and searching within myself as I read it. The officer asks simply, “Why? Why did it have to happen, John?” John says, “It was their love what killed them, Boss. It was their love.” I knew the killer had threatened to kill the girls’ parents if they cried out, and so they were silently led to their deaths. It was their love what killed them.
I have never forgotten that statement. I have fought an internal battle over that one. But, I say to myself, LOVE is good! Love is what we strive for! We show love to others, spread love in answer to hate, love our fellow human, animals, the earth. LOVE is the reason we live! It was their love what killed them. My heart ached to understand because I knew that these words had a meaning and depth that I was not fully grasping.
As I went through daily tasks, met others, tried to be kind and loving to those I came into contact with, I kept wrestling with John Coffey’s words. And then I literally bumped into a person–ragged, dirty, unkempt–as I went into a convenience store to grab a box of tissues because of a horrible cold. I had exactly $2.00. I saw the tissues were $1.79. With tax, that would take the two dollars. I grabbed a napkin by the hot and ready to eat food to wipe my runny nose as I headed to the counter with my tissues. I heard the bell signaling someone else had entered the store and glanced toward it. I saw that the person I had bumped into was still there, but now sitting on the cold ground, curled up to keep warm. The hot food was not even two feet away from me. A sign read, SALE!! 2 DOGS FOR $2. I looked at the steaming hot dogs on the roller, the person huddled just outside the door, my box of tissues. I grabbed another napkin, blew my nose and wiped it again, and grabbed the tissues to put them back. I got to the counter and asked for the two hot dog special. The woman behind the counter gave them to me, took my two dollars (no tax on food) and I got three little paper containers and put ketchup and mustard and relish in them. I grabbed yet another napkin for my nose and a fistful for the person who was outside.
Pushing my way through the door, I went immediately to this person I now considered a friend in my mind and heart, and said, “If you’re hungry, maybe these will help.” I blew my nose and smiled as he looked up at me with tears. Feeling close to tears myself at his response, I pushed the food towards him and said with a choked voice, “Enjoy, okay man?” He nodded and the tears rolled down his face. He started to say something and I cut him off with, “Have a good one, man!” and went to my car and got in. He was looking at me, mouth open, teary, and I waved and he awkwardly waved back and then smiled. I used my coat sleeve to wipe both my eyes and my nose. It was their love what killed them.
A little light crept into my heart and brain. No, I was most certainly not going to die from not having tissues and yes, my coat sleeve would be stiff by the time I got out of the meeting I was attending and got home. But in the moment where our eyes met, the man’s and mine, I felt love for him. Not pity or superiority. LOVE. My sacrificing my box of tissues was NOT a big deal, but I felt those two hot dogs certainly were to my new friend–that I loved.
That evening, still thinking about John Coffey and the words, I exaggerated the events of the day. What if I had had nothing to eat and spending the money on him would have actually harmed me and kept me hungry? What if he were going to be picked up for vagrancy unless he had bus fare to get someplace safe but that would mean I had no money for my own bus fare? What if I didn’t help him and he got beat up or we both did because I wouldn’t abandon him? Oh my god! It was their love what killed them.
Today, because we refuse to hate, we face a very real possibility of being harmed by those that do hate. I will offer refuge for those that are abused. I will march with signs for BLACK LIVES MATTER. I will march with signs for DREAMERS RIGHTS. I will march for RAINBOW EQUALITY FOR ALL. For immigrants. For women. For healthcare for all. I will protest White Supremacy, the KKK, Neo-Nazis, the Nationalists. And if asked to turn in someone for their beliefs, their citizenship status, their sexual orientation, their race–I will not and I will not out of LOVE for my fellow human beings.
Our rights are being systematically stripped from us. Everything we value and live by is challenged. We are not “IN” power, but we “HAVE” power. There may come a time, and sooner than we expect, when our love will be on the line and a punishable criminal offense. And that is when the future will look back on us, as a people and as a nation, and say, “IT WAS THEIR LOVE WHAT KILLED THEM.” Is there any more honorable death? Dying for each other out of love?