When does a person become unworthy of kindness?
Although it’s not a rhetorical question, I’m not looking for any answers. I think there are many.
This question came up in my home the day Derrick Todd Lee, convicted serial killer, died. I wasn’t thinking about Lee, though. I googled Trevor Reese.
Trevor was my son’s high-school classmate and soccer teammate. Until he wasn’t.
Between their sophomore and junior years of high school, Trevor did the unthinkable. On a summer day, he slit the throat of Jack Attuso, a happy eight-year-old, out for a walk with his family.
My son was sixteen at the time, as was Trevor.
The news was confounding. Even today when I read about it, my heart breaks in every direction.
- Jack’s parents
- Trevor’s parents
- Jack’s siblings
- Trevor’s siblings
And the heartbreak goes on.
In his sixteenth year, Trevor felt he was like a Derrick Todd Lee. On that summer day in 2010, Trevor set out to get some “relief.” To get “high,” if you will. To feel better. He was sure killing would do it. In his court testimony, he explains that he was disappointed after the act.
The Lee and Trevor stories are horrifying. Google their names if you really want to know more. But I ask this:
When did/will/would a Derrick Todd Lee or a Trevor Reese become unworthy of kindness?
“Maybe he (my son) could write to him, tell him something nice he remembers about him?”
“To lift him up. Maybe add something.”
“What do you mean why?”
“Why waste your energy on someone like that?”
I was surprised to hear this from someone who sees the value in lifting up. But my partner had a point. Why expend good energy and goodwill on someone who may be immune to it? We have many people, projects, and commitments in our lives. If we prioritize it all, where would a Lee or a Trevor fall on our list?
Can I make the time? Should I make the time? Stripped down, the question is: “Is he worthy of my kindness?”
My heart answers “yes” every time.
Good people do bad things. Bad people do good things.
In a scene from an Argentinian film Hombre mirando al sudeste (Man Facing Southeast), Rantes, the protagonist, is in a pathology lab. He slices a brain in half and asks a series of questions as he explores the crevices: “Where is that afternoon where he first felt the love of a woman?” “What marks are left of the moments of pleasure and pain that this man felt?” As he tears apart pieces of the brain and washes them down a drain: “There goes Einstein. Bach. Mr. Nobody. A crazy man. A murderer.” Rantes asks the doctor who is visiting him: “What do you think, doctor? Does this drain spill into hell or into heaven?”
There are so many things we can’t truly know.
- What’s in a person’s head?
- Will my kind words be fruitless or fruitful?
When I asked my son what he thought: “I think I would actually like to write to him. I don’t know what I’d say. ‘I hope you find peace.’ Something. It can’t hurt.”
Those words, that missive would be small. Light as a ping pong ball. So why not toss it over? That ping pong ball could hit a brick wall then bounce away, back at us, over our heads, into oblivion. Or, the ball could fall into an open heart. Maybe lift it a little.
Maybe Trevor would remember something good. He’ll spend the rest if his life in Angola. What could a ping pong ball of kindness hurt?
I confess I’m drawn to stories like the Amish story of forgiveness and grief. Within weeks of the shooting in which the milk truck driver entered a school and shot ten students, killing five and then himself, Amish families donated money to the murderer’s widow and children. What’s more, the day after the services for the victims, some of the family members of the victims attended the killer’s burial service, hugged his widow, and expressed condolences to the family.
Trevor’s mom was my son’s math teacher. My son liked her. I often thought about reaching out but never did. I regret that. I should have written. I should have tossed her a ping pong ball of kindness. Maybe it’s not too late to send a kind missive, perhaps even an uplifting word to her son, Trevor. Tossing that out there will feel good, no matter how it lands or where it bounces.
Copyright © 2016 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.
Part 1: A circle of thanksgiving
We stand in a circle holding hands, a tradition that evolved in my parents’ home from a combination two traditions, leftovers, if you will: grace before a meal and gratefuls during meals.
Boil these down for gumbo tomorrow.
Every link in our circle has suffered at least one wrench or break from another link in this circle. Yet, here we are. “First, we’ll take turns expressing what we’re grateful for . . . It can be anything,” to ease the younger links into the tradition.
“I’m thankful for this family . . . “
Gratitude has become a bandwagon for those anxious to reap the emotional, spiritual, as well as fiduciary benefits of thankfulness. Rewire your brain! Relieve stress. Improve sleep. Improve relationships. I ride that bandwagon. Gratitude helps me deal with leftovers of relationships, disasters, even meals.
What are we going to do with all of these potatoes?
In gratitude we push away shortcomings to focus on our strengths, we see beyond our losses to be joyful for our blessings, we displace grudges with forgiveness.
“I’m grateful for this time together . . .”
We acknowledge that, like all families, there have been unfortunate turns in our family. Ours comes back to this circle of thanksgiving, woven with the strength of our love for each other, the joy of the blessings we share, and the magic of forgiveness. And food.
Can we freeze the rest of the cranberry relish?
Thankfulness in many ways is magical. When divides —whether political, religious, social, or emotional— feel irreparably deep, gratitude for the leftover goodness mends, a circle of thankfulness bridges gaps between us.
“I’m grateful to be included in this family.”
We all have at least one thing in common, at least one thing we can be grateful for together.
How many pies?
I’m thankful for common ground.
“. . . and for the children, who are present and engaged.”
My dad closes the circle of gratitude with a prayer.
” . . . and for these blessings, we give thanks.”
We squeeze hands and chime in “Amen” before we dig in and begin creating . . . the leftovers.
Part 2: Leftovers
Stacks of dishes, naps on recliners, impossible puzzles, long walks through the fields, disappointing football games, and then the question.
What should I do with this?
For those of you who tuned in for leftover recipes, here are a few ideas.
In Louisiana, we often pull the okra and sausage out of the freezer and cook up a pot of turkey gumbo on Black Friday. Online recipes for exact ingredients and measurements are plentiful. This is the basic process.
- Start with a stock.
- Boil the bones alone or with some herbs (bay leaf, oregano, for example) and vegetable scraps (onion ends and skin, a head of garlic cut down the middle).
- Make a roux.
- About 1 cup each of flour and vegetable oil for a big pot of gumbo.
- Slowly heat the flour in the pot until it becomes golden.
- Add oil and whisk until it blends smoothly with the flour.
- Continue to heat slowly until the roux is dark.
- Add vegetables.
- Add chopped onion, bell pepper, and celery (1-2 cups of each).
- Once these are soft, follow with minced garlic (4-5 cloves).
- Add the stock, leftover (and chopped) turkey, Andouille sausage medallions (Italian sausage will do), sliced okra (1-2 cups), and 2-4 tbsp of Worcester sauce (to taste).
- Season (salt, cayenne, Tabasco, black pepper) to taste.
- Bring the gumbo to a boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes.
- Serve with rice.
If you end up with extra dressing or stuffing, make dressing croquettes.
- Work a beaten egg into a bowl of about 3 cups of dressing.
- Form balls (slightly bigger than a golf ball).
- Optional: Fill the balls with cranberry relish or any compatible leftover.
- Poke a hole.
- Cook for about 5 minutes:
- To fry, roll in a little flour then deep fry.
- To bake, place on cooking sheets and bake at 400º.
- To air fry, place balls in Airfryer and cook at 330º.
Sweet Potato Chips
Leftover baked sweet potatoes?
- Slice the cooked sweet potatoes about ¼ inch thin.
- Season to taste (salt and cayenne or cinnamon and brown sugar).
- 300º for 10 minutes in Airfryer.
- Deep fry for 2-3 minutes.
- 400º for 10-15 minutes in the oven.
I was the last to leave my parents’, which means my mom filled my car with the leftovers she didn’t want. As I repurposed the turkey, dressing, potatoes, and relish, I reminisced about the week our family spent together. I’m grateful for that leftover lagniappe.
Copyright © 2015 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.