“How did I get so lucky to have my heart awakened to others and their suffering?” (Pema Chodron, Buddhist Teacher) I wouldn’t call it luck.
My heart was awakened to others through faith. As a young child, the preaching of Lent and particularly of Good Friday troubled the “hell” out of me. Not that I was afraid of going to hell, but I was tremendously troubled. How could such a horrible death come to one named Jesus who had lived such a wonderfully loving and caring life? The crucifixion stories didn’t frighten me, and I’m not sure why they didn’t. The stories made me very, very sad. I wasn’t angry at the people who killed Jesus; I was very sad for them. The sadness felt for the murderous group of thugs stemmed from Jesus saying, “they know not what they do.” The words of scripture were well known in my home, and I had heard the stories way before I understood a word.
One year for Christmas, I was given a BB gun or air rifle. With joy and excitement, I prepared, loaded, and readied the rifle. I ran outdoors ready to fire away. It so happened that as I was considering what to shoot, a mocking bird landed on a branch of a holly tree full of bright red berries. The gray bird nestled among the green and red of the holly with the Carolina Blue sky as a backdrop was beautiful. The bird looked at me and tipped its head as if to say, “top of the morning to you.” Without even thinking, I raised the rifle, drew the bird into my gun sight and fired. The bird fell from the branch and hit the ground with a soft thud. I did not know what I had done. A chill went over me as I walked over and saw the bird laying on the ground. It had landed on its back with its feet up in the air. There was a small trickle of blood oozing from the BB wound in the bird’s chest. I did not know what I had done. Tears began to stream uncontrollably down my cheeks and my lips were quivering as if I were freezing in the cool morning air. I threw the BB gun down and ran to my safe place – an old fort made of discarded building supplies collected over the years. I cried for a long time. After calming down a bit, I realized that I was hungry and that breakfast would soon be on the table. I could smell the bacon. But what would I do? What would I say? I was paralyzed.
That joyful Christmas morning had taken a bizarre turn. Death of a bird at my hands made me sick, scared, and sorrowful. It was the worst Christmas. Ever. The image of the dead bird and the horror I felt have been lifelong companions in my psyche. How could I have done that? What a thoughtless, careless, and callous person I had been. That beautiful bird should have never died at my hands. Knowing it has nothing at all to do with my story, every time I hear someone mention the book To Kill a Mocking Bird the memory of that Christmas morning becomes all too vivid.
Figuratively, to kill a mocking bird is to destroy innocence. That day I lost my first innocence. So, how does that fit in with Lent and Good Friday? Each time I hear the story of crucifixion, I stand in a world of lost innocence. Why did he have to die? Ah sweet Jesus, why did you have to die?
The story of Jesus and the stories of faith that shaped my own reaction to my dastardly act have opened me to the suffering of others. The blood still flows from a mocking bird’s breast and an old rugged cross. Faith, not luck, has broken me open. The pain of the world surrounds me. I must find my old fort and weep.