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