Billy Coffey

writer, observer, learner

What Happened to My Kindness

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On the tree of Virtue it was always the fruit of kindness I could easiest pick. The others—love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—seemed to grow a bit higher up. I could pick that fruit too, of course. I just had to work a little harder to get it. I had to raise to my tiptoes and reach.

But as I said, not so for kindness. That one was easy. Until Eddie, anyway.

Eddie was the sort of guy you’d let your daughter go out with knowing you wouldn’t have to sit on the porch with the shotgun until she came home. He was a nice kid who grew into a nicer man—mannerly, quiet, and able to quote scripture that I had never read. There are people you meet early in their lives and know they’re going to make it, whatever the “it” happens to be. Eddie was one of them, and everyone knew it.

He was twenty-eight when he married Christina. His first, her second. It was one of those chance encounters that most felt had little to do with luck and more with God—they shared the same Sunday school class at church. Eddie started out on the other side of the room from her. A few weeks later, he’d moved a bit closer. Then closer still. By the third month we’d not only finished most of the Old Testament, but the two of them were sitting side by side and holding hands.

It was love. Of the true, sloppy, head-over-heels sort.

As far as anyone knows, things were storybook for the newlyweds from the start. No one at church had ever seen a happier couple. But no one knew about Eddie’s drinking, either. Not even Christina. It was something Eddie had always kept to himself and the small circle of friends he’d go out with after work. There was, to him, no need to mention it to anyone else. Jesus drank, after all. It wasn’t like Eddie had a problem.

Four months after the wedding, Eddie left work early one afternoon to meet an old friend at a bar in the city. The two caught up over bottles of liquor and whiskey, rehashing old times and promising new ones.

Eddie crested a hill in the wrong lane on the way home. The compact car he met just on the other side offered little resistance to his truck, which was going nearly seventy miles per hour. By the time rescue personnel arrived, the four passengers in the car were dead. Eddie’s truck was lodged against an oak tree. He was passed out but unharmed.

His foot was still on the accelerator.

Eddie was charged with four counts of vehicular manslaughter. Dead were a grandmother, her daughter, and two grandchildren. Most of an entire family taken in less time than it took to down a shot of whiskey.

Four months later during Sunday service, Eddie stood before the church and confessed his sin. He asked for mercy, for forgiveness, and for the grace of a second chance. His sentencing was the next morning, he said, and he would appreciate any prayers.

Then he broke down in a spasm of tears.

The congregation, silent and still through Eddie’s speech, stood as one and began to applaud.

All but me. I couldn’t get out of my pew.

I couldn’t find my kindness.

I couldn’t because I could not see in front of me a broken man begging for the sympathy of his church and his God. I could not see my neighbor, my brother in Christ. I could not see the Golden Rule.

All I could see were the four people he killed. Not on purpose, no. But not by accident, either.

And I knew this as well. I knew if Eddie had crested that hill and met my family on the other side, I’d have wanted him dead myself.

Eddie’s sentence was sixty years. With good behavior, he can be paroled in twenty. He’s currently leading Bible studies and counseling fellow inmates. Eddie’s gotten his grace of a second chance, though it’s behind bars.

And me? My drive to work and home takes me past a cluster of small crosses by the side of a hill I must crest twice daily. I look at them every time I pass. I wonder of what’s left of that family.

And Eddie.

And my kindness.

(This post is part of the Kindness blog carnival hosted by Bridget Chumbley. To read more posts, please visit her.)

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  1. I don’t know if I could have found the kindness either, Billy. This is hard. It’s one of those hard ones you have reach down and feel, and if you pull it up and out you think you might take your soul with it. And maybe you will.

  2. So incredibly sad. Terrible story told in the most honest way. Thanks Billy.

  3. Tincture of time, Billy. This one really hurts.

  4. “Not on purpose, no. But not by accident either.”

    That’s the part that gets me. He feels remorse and it wasn’t intentional, but if he’d have made it home safely nothing would have changed and it might have happened later.

    Such a sad story. It really makes me question how I would react as well. Thanks.

  5. Sincere and honest… great post, Billy. There are a few situations where I think I’d have trouble finding my kindness… this is certainly one of them!

  6. Sadly, I would be there with you. I would not stand, and I know this because I have been in a similar incident.

    One of my friends killed a mother and small girl when he ran a stop sign. Although a friend, I wanted justice.

    But I pray for a forgiving spirit, and I pray for the remaining family that has to live without a mother and wife. But most of all, I pray for myself.

    That I can find this kindness…

    Great post!

  7. “. . . The Absolute Innocence of all within my creation / takes a while to understand.”
    ~ “No One Will Begrudge Me”, from Love Poems From God

    Beautifully written, Billy.

  8. What a challenging post, Billy. I hope I’d find my kindness, but I’m not sure I would. Not sure I could. I know Jesus would want me to find it because he would. I guess I’d focus on the guy’s life in prison, how he was helping all those in prison. Maybe those guys that he’s touched would have never found Christ had he not been sentenced to 60 years. . .

    But still.

    You’ve got me thinking, Billy, once again.

    Thank you.

  9. In a case like that forgiveness comes in time. And even with time I think it would still sting.
    What an awful situation.

  10. It’s human nature to want revenge and God’s nature to extend grace. I guess that’s why He’s where He is and we are where we are.

    Beautifully written Billy.

  11. This is the very best kind of personal experience writing.

    As for the story, every time I pass those crosses (not yours there, but mine here), I hear God calling me into a conversation.

  12. That’s so sad. I lost my cousin to a drunk driver and a good friend of mine from high school too. I don’t understand what makes people think they can handle a vehicle when they are intoxicated.

  13. Three work friends of my husband’s were killed coming back from lunch by a woman driver who was attempting vehicular suicide. She did not have a scratch. A year later she was sentenced to “time served.” That wasn’t justice by any stretch of the imagination. The jury felt sorry for a sad, pretty girl. i don’t think I could stand and applaud for her either.

  14. i guess there is some kindness that has to grow into our reach.

  15. This is one of my deepest struggles. Especially after my husband’s ex almost took a third of our family with her. I pray more heart my be softened too that I may feel compassion. I try to pray for her and eventually I will, but it is hard. Alcohol is one of the biggest evils of our day. People use it to hide behind and never see anything coming. Hearts are broken everyday from it’s effects.

  16. Thanks for sharing. This article is deep an thought provoking.

  17. Billy,

    I think it’s through time that God restores that kind of kindness within us. Then again, it may never come. I too, would have a difficult time coming to terms with this but then again, something inside reminds me that Eddie, will never be able to forgive himself, as the enemy will spend his entire life reminding Eddie that he will never be good enough for anyone to truly forgive him again and that even God will have a difficult time with that one.

    Love and Hugs ~ Kat

  18. Wow Billy! I can even imagine your grief and pain. Thanks for sharing this story with us.

  19. This is beautifully expressed. I don’t think your kindness disappeared – you reflect it in your kind words for the beauties in life that Eddie did have, for describing the kindness your church offered him. Perhaps, only perhaps, kindness and forgiveness can be separated here. Forgiveness is an internal process, and one that you will decide to pursue when you are able. Kindness is evidenced in wondering if you will pursue it.

  20. And this is you, writing naked. It is so easy to understand why your words have so much power. I keep waiting for you to disappoint, Billy. I’m glad you never do.

  21. That was a very thought provoking post. It left me wondering where I would be in a situation like that. (Most likely still in my seat also.)

    It also left me in awe of a God that is better at offering mercy than we are. Wonderful post!

  22. Forgive? Yes. Always. We are called to forgive. Applaud a man in God’s house after what he did? Hell no. Wonder what the reaction would have been if the victims’ family members were in that same church.

  23. This is all too familiar. Like Katdish, I don’t understand the applause. I can see hugs and tears and prayers, but not applause. And like you, I’d be tempted to let my desire for justice overide God’s need for my kindness. We all have these demons. It’s sad that some come at the cost of other lives. Wow, a lot to think about and reflect upon.

  24. Thank you Billy for this powerful and provocative piece.

    I don’t have an answer for what happened to your kindness. I do know that for me, forgiveness comes long before I find my kindness. And sometimes, forgiveness is the rocky shore upon which I rest my burdens and limitations.


  25. What honesty. And very sad.

  26. We were built in Christ’s image, we are not Christ. It is hard to forgive. I would like to think that I could at least stand and applaud for his courage to stand in front of others and ask for help, prayers, and forgiveness, considering he didn’t have to. I will have to agree with Kat that he will probably never forgive himself. That he will always carry a pain that was not intended for him to carry. I never murdered someone, but I’ve done things in my life that I’m not proud of and even to this day I can’t forgive myself. It’s crazy to think that God could forgive, but he does. We are our on worst enemy.

  27. Oh, my, what a poignant story about choices. That kindness is much too hard for me to swallow. I always say someday, even with one of my fathers having been an alcoholic. Those crosses on the road remind me of how much damage his alcoholism did to each of us individually and destroyed our family. Thanks for sharing Billy.

  28. great post as usual!

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