I got to the prison last week. I got to meet Micheal, one of the guys convicted of manslaughter in Abe’s death. He looked me straight in the eye; he told me what happened as far as he saw; he told me things that made him look bad – that he didn’t have to tell me; he was apologetic. Repeatedly. He told me how Abe acted in this fight and it was exactly as I knew Abe would have acted when he was drunk.
Did I get the full truth about that painful night? No. Micheal says he doesn’t have that full truth as he left before there was the escalation that certainly brought upon Abe’s death. For various reasons, both from what Micheal said, and what he didn’t say, I believe that to be so. But certainly I don’t know for sure. Pending discovery of a videotape taken from all angles, I will never know for sure.
So then, did I get what I was looking for?
The meeting was only an hour, and it was, as I needed, only Micheal and me. I left feeling free of some unidentified burden. I couldn’t name it, but I knew as I walked to my car that I was leaving freer than I had come in.
It wasn’t till yesterday, in a discussion with someone else, that I saw what it was.
I have known for a long time that “being right” and “being in the right” are more often than not only defenses – very weak ones at that – for responding to internal pain. Being “right” in human relationships leads nowhere but to blame. And it follows that “being wrong” also leads nowhere.
What does matter is being open. Despite the pain that wants us to close down so badly. And openness, I am discovering, cannot be conditional on the other being “right.”
The loss of Abraham for me is so beyond painful that I know I still don’t feel anywhere near the fullness of it. To meet with a man who was convicted of manslaughter in taking from me this son who mattered to me so deeply that I am still in some sort of very real denial that he’s gone would tell me whether or not I had not only lost Abraham, but also lost me.
Could I be as open to this man – to the three of them ultimately – as I am to anyone else? Or was this now beyond my limit?
I confronted Micheal. There was less of a need for it then I had expected, but I did confront him. As I do anyone whom I believe has done wrong to me. He got confused at more than one point but he didn’t flinch from trying to respond openly and honestly. I was glad to discover inside me that I respected him for that.
When I left I told him that I had no problem with him – a back door’s way of forgiveness, I suppose – and asked if he had any problem with me. He did not. We shook hands and I thanked him for seeing me. He thanked me for coming. And he asked me again to convey to Abe’s family his regret and apologies for the pain he’d caused us.
I know that there will be much questioning of what I did:
I am fully aware that there are those who will believe I was wrong to go over there.
I am fully aware that there are those who will believe that I was conned by Micheal.
I am fully aware that there are those who will believe that I betrayed Abraham, and all the others whom I love and who love me by meeting with this man who played too big a part in attacking, and hurting, our family.
I know all this. But I also know this:
The three of them took Abe, but they weren’t able to take me in the process. I left the prison with me intact; I left the prison maybe even more open than I was the day before Abraham died. That openness is the only foundation strong enough for any relationship even those we have with ourselves. Were it to turn out that I was somehow absolutely wrong to go over there, I’d accept the responsibility for that, apologize to those I’d wronged, and deal with the consequences.
But I came home “open.” How then, no matter how “wrong,” could I have been wrong?
My experience tells me that violations of justice are always done by people who are closed and insist on staying that way.
That’s not for me. Open trumps “right” every time.
And, beyond justice, it is the only measure of integrity that we have.