Guest Post by Judy Knotts
We couldn’t be more different. He is Mexican-American, slight, handsome, and middle age. I am of Irish and Dutch descent, tall for a woman, and elderly. He has two years of formal schooling; I have 22. He’s lived in the woods, a bunk house, a shelter, a trailer and a house. I have only lived in houses. He’s been on his own since age 7, finding places to sleep, clothes to wear, and food to eat. At 7, I was driven to Brownie meetings, bribed to eat something green at family dinners, and tucked into bed each night. He’s spent 17 years in solitary confinement for committing a double homicide, has a record of seven aggravated assaults, and one charge of carrying a weapon. I have gotten two tickets for speeding, and one for making an illegal left turn.
So how did Diego (name changed to protect his privacy) and I, from two totally different worlds, become friends? We met at a small house-warming party in a trailer park, eyed each other awkwardly at first, and then struck up a conversation. It seemed almost at once that we needed each other. He needed work, and I needed someone to work … to trim bushes.
Thus our relationship began. It was solidified early on when we spent hours sitting side-by-side on the unforgiving concrete of my driveway, trying to assemble a new electrical trimmer purchased for the job, with the deceptive words on the box, “easy assembly.” We had to be a team because Diego could not read the directions well enough and I could not turn a screw tight enough.
That was years ago. Since then our relationship has evolved from friendship to fondness to love. Not the love between a man and a woman, but the love for another person on the planet who is placed in our path in spite of differences. Surely, there is a reason for this that we mortals cannot grasp.
Our friendship has been tested and transformed. Early on in our relationship Diego had to learn how to function outside prison walls and I had to grasp the enormity of the challenge. Health issues, a hip replacement coupled with periodic depression and anxiety attacks plague Diego. Ill prepared to offer any real help, I most often listen, encourage, and when really pressed, suggest we pray together as we did on the phone once in the middle of the night while the police scoured the trailer park searching for him after a violent fight.
Diego is there for me as well, as true friends are. He’s moved me from house to house to house, cleaned garages, planted flowers, and put together furniture (we both have gotten better at this!) He’s decorated my Christmas tree, reminded me to buy gas when the gauge gets low, and tried to warn me to stay out of what he considered dangerous neighborhoods when we delivered water, sandwiches, or day-old Starbucks’ pastries to folks on the street.
One of our times together in Walmart, sort of says it all. Wandering through the home decorating aisle, we discovered the display of essential oils, those tiny vials of scents, and debated … spring rain or sandalwood? And we agreed — never buy the overpowering midnight rose. This gift of enjoying each other simply and purely took my breath away as I thought about it much later — an ex-con and an old lady, a self-admitted addict and a school principal happily sharing a Martha Stewart moment. Only God could dream this up!
Diego didn’t fear much, but he feared death. Not for any suffering involved, but because he believed he could not be forgiven for killing two men, one his brother. No God, he thought, could look the other way and say, “You are forgiven son.” I tried to explain that he only had to be truly sorry and ask forgiveness. Diego wasn’t ready to absorb this incredible idea. The timing of repentance is truly beyond our reach, which is why I believe the death penalty is so wrong.
Our many faiths and laws say, thou shall not kill. And then we do — extinguishing any possible plea for mercy and a path to heaven.
How can this be?