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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Somebody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen

By: Elizabeth Dede
Open Door Community
    The song “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” always seemed to me to be one of deep sadness, sung by a person left alone, friendless, surrounded by people who didn’t care to hear their story, to share their pain.  Out of the depths of this despair they cry to Jesus who hears them and pulls them up out of the quagmire.
    But I don’t think it’s supposed to be that way.  That kind of abandonment and loneliness is a sign of a society that has lost its soul – a people who no longer love and care for each other.  I believe we can really only know about Jesus’ love for us as we experience it in each other, else love is only an abstract concept, with no flesh and bones, no breath and voice, no ears to hear our troubles.
    The Journey of Hope in Georgia began for me on Saturday, October 1, at New Hope House down near death row in Jackson.  I spent the day visiting my good friend Jack, who is on the row there, and came out to a gathering of members of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, family members and friends of people on death row, the mother of a young man who had been executed, and many other friends whose presence said that they were opposed to the death penalty.
    It was an amazing congregation, a holy family.  Here, standing hand-in-hand, were mothers whose sons had committed a terrible murder with mothers whose children had been murdered.  Our system tells us that these people cannot come together, that they cannot tell their stories to each other, that they cannot share their pain, that they cannot comfort each other.  But it happened.
    Mary, whose husband is now serving a life sentence after over 15 years on death row; wept and told how she wanted to reach out to the family of the victim, but she felt her hands were empty and she had nothing to give.  The District Attorney had portrayed her husband Andrew as a remorseless animal, and the victim’s family was not allowed to feel Andrew’s grief and pain.  It seemed that a great divide had been placed between the families by the District Attorney, and their hands could not reach each other.
    Betty told of the sorrow she and her son Mike have suffered for the past 20 years, wondering what was happened to the wife and children of the man Mike killed.  Betty and Mike were not allowed to contact the family of the victim while Mike’s death penalty case was still on appeal.  When Mike finally got off death row after 16 years, they feared opening old wounds and creating more pain for children who were grown and for people who had somehow gone on with their lives.  Yet this mother and her son ache for reconciliation which is denied them.
    Then another Betty, whose son Chris was murdered by the state of Georgia, shared her grief.  Like all the other mothers and wives, she never denied that Chris had done a terrible thing, but the real horror for her was that throughout his trial, no one every got to say a good word about Chris.  Betty was not asked to testify, and even members of the victim’s family who did not want the death penalty, were not allowed to say anything on his behalf.  This mother’s sadness made my heart hurt.  All of us have a deep need to have good things said and remembered about us.
    Her friend spoke up and said to those of us gathered there, “Nobody knows what this mother’s suffering is like.  She left her son healthy and strong and alive in the visiting room.  And then Chris was killed.  Betty never saw him again.”
    You would think that the family members of a murder victim would be furious, seething with rage, as they heard these stories – murderers’ families crying and asking for forgiveness and understanding and mercy.  The image we see in the news is that families of murder victims want revenge.  They want the death penalty.
    But there was a different spirit in this gathering.  Murder victims’ families embraced and comforted the families of murderers, and there was healing.  Here were people who did know the sorrow of losing children and other loved ones to murder: daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, grandmothers left strong, healthy, and alive.  And then, they were killed, never to be seen again.
    Sue, a member of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, shared her pain with the group as she told the story of the murder of her parents.  When the trail for the man who committed the murder came, the District Attorney whipped up a frenzy of hatred.  Sue did not want to remember her parents through violence and death, but she did not know that she could speak out against the death penalty.  According to the District Attorney it was the only available, appropriate punishment.  Now Sue honors the lives of her parents by struggling to save the life of the man who killed them.
    She said to us, “I’m so glad to be gathered here because the system tells me I’m crazy when I say, ‘Stop the death penalty.  Don’t’ kill in my name.’  But I know here today that I’m not crazy.  We’re not crazy.”
    And that is what the Journey of Hope is about for me.  It is a beautiful affirmation of life and of the struggle to abolish the death penalty.  Certainly as it poured down rain on Sunday, October 2, and our group marched through the streets of Atlanta led by the Rev. Fred Taylor, singing and chanting, “Abolition Now!” we looked crazy, all wet and bedraggled.   But I am so sure we are the sane ones.  Hatred and revenge are crazy; they only lead to more hurt and violence.
    When Sue had finished telling her story, we sang together, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”  But the Journey of Hope changed that song.  Somebody knows now.  Hundreds of students at Marist High School know because they listened to George.  Forty-five young people at Grady High School know because Ernest told them.  Thousands of people in Atlanta know because they heard Sam’s story on the radio.
    We know each other’s troubles as we share our stories, and we can comfort each other.  There is strength to love and forgive as we listen to each other.
    If a mother whose daughter was murdered can forgive, if a son whose mother was murdered can forgive, then reconciliation is possible for all of us.  Join us on the Journey of Hope.  It lasts for a lifetime and leads us from hatred to reconciliation.