Joy and Hope
May 22, 2010
Two mothers share in compassion, healing
This is late for a Mother’s Day reflection. I will rely on the understanding of all mothers, especially my own. Whenever my mother would say, “I know you’re busy,” I knew that the correct translation was, “You mean you’re too busy to call your mother?!”
I will blame Divine Providence for the delay in putting some thoughts together for Mother’s Day since I recently found something that provoked some reflection in this maternal regard. In the May 15, edition of the Sacramento Bee there was a poignant story — “Moms of killer, victim form a bond of grief” — about two mothers whose lives tragically intertwined.
They both met at the courtroom door. One was the mother of the victim, killed during an attempted carjacking. The other was the mother of one of the perpetrators. The first meeting began with one opening the courtroom door for the other with an anguished, “I’m so sorry.” On the day of the sentencing there were words of forgiveness and an exchange of flowers.
I do not know well the circumstances of the case. Nor am I well acquainted with the women involved to interpret the intentions or unravel the knot of pain and sorrow that brought them together. While one hopes and prays for their healing, there is also the sober acknowledgement that a wound will remain. In such cases, it can be a deep wound.
This makes more startling the simple gestures of grace that these two women exchanged during the long brutal ordeal of the criminal justice system. I do not mean to suggest that there could have been another way to resolve the senseless bloodshed inflicted. Yet, the manners of these two women revealed the unfathomed depths of the human heart, especially a mother’s heart, that the criminal justice system cannot know and often coldly leaves untended. Can a verdict calm the rage of loss or fill the nagging emptiness that lingers on?
The law has its calculus for rendering a judgment according to what is fair. It also seeks to protect society from future harm by incarceration, punishment and perhaps some rehabilitation. The familiar icon for justice is the hanging scales where each side is weighed in coming to a verdict. That image portrays the necessary adversarial dimension of justice as well as the unbridgeable chasm this often creates. In the sway of those litigious scales, Carol Reiter and Crystal Denard were able to reach across to one another to find their own balance.
The newspaper account of Ms. Reiter and Ms. Denard provides a window into a dark, difficult world into which many mothers find themselves dragged by unfortunate, unspeakable violence inflicted by one’s child against another’s. These two women were able to see other’s pain and feel each other’s sorrow. They did not retreat to adversarial corners but helped each other move through the courtroom maze of motions and emotions. They recognized each other as mothers, understood each other’s pain, and tried to give each other comfort.
In what may have been a helpless situation for both became an occasion when they helped one to carry the grief and another to carry the shame. In this peculiar relationship there was also something divine, an instance of amazing grace. Neither of them could have expected this to happen. Neither of them could have expected how she would respond. God’s grace and their openness to the possibility of such grace helped them to find a balance of mercy.
The linguistic origin for the word “compassion” means to “suffer with.” Compassion is always an extraordinary virtue, even more so when one’s own suffering brings a person to suffer with another. The quiet compassion of these two mothers gave witness to a strong maternal instinct that always seeks to give life. Motherhood is a privileged share in the creative work of the divine. This rare courtroom parable unveils how two mothers continue to share in the divine work of compassion, healing and comfort.