Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Living Hamlet

My sweet, auburn-haired, four-year-old niece, Emma Catherine Grace Thompson, was sexually abused and beaten to death two summers ago. You probably read about this tragic story in the Houston Chronicle or saw a report about it on one of the local television news networks at the time of its occurrence and again this past summer when Emma’s mother, Abigail Young, was tried and convicted of reckless and serious bodily injury to a child by omission. A jury found her boyfriend, Lucas Coe, guilty of super aggravated sexual assault of a child just last week. Needless to say, it has been a cathartic and emotionally draining experience for my whole family. We found precious little comfort in the convictions of the perpetrators of this heinous crime; it was truly a pyrrhic victory at best, for what could gratify the heart other than the return of that adorable child in the flesh? And for that, we must impatiently wait until the Day of Judgment.
For the most part, I have successfully contained the seething rage lurking in the dark corridors of my heart, but Shakespeare summoned it forth these last few weeks when I revisited Hamlet with my AP English IV class at St. Thomas. The bard’s tale of the brooding, philosophical hero hell bent on revenge profoundly moved me, stirring something long dormant in one of the subterranean rooms of my soul. I can truly say with a greater degree of certainty than ever before that I not only understand Hamlet’s maniacal desire for vengeance, but I absolutely empathize with him. I observed firsthand the deleterious effects that a calm, collected, and unyielding rage can wreak upon the human psyche. Frankly, it’s enough to terrorize the soul because it is to stare into the abyss. Those famous soliloquies were no longer merely poetical speeches but ineffable ponderings of a kindred soul whose heart and mind were so similar to my own. There was a very real temptation among many of the men of my family to act upon our baser instincts for revenge, like Hamlet, rather than letting the justice system mete out the appropriate punishment for those ignominious offenders.

I lived as Hamlet for a short while there. When I looked into the mirror, I saw haunted eyes whose piercing glance bore right through me down to the very core of my personhood. I say with utter sincerity that it frightened me to look so deeply into myself. I have felt the sting of “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and have drunk deeply from the well of sorrow that is the “To be or not to be” soliloquy (3.1.56-89). Hamlet’s immortal words have taken on a new significance that they didn’t possess before as I have struggled to cope with the reality of my family’s own tragedy. When I watched Coe and Young in the courtroom, Hamlet’s lament that man is “A beast, no more!” (4.4.35) rang true to my ears, but I was also uplifted by my family’s strength and firm resolve, which are best captured by Hamlet’s delightful epithet for man, the “paragon of animals”(2.2.306).

As Christians we strive to pray and live as Jesus taught us, and usually that is rather easy to do, but there comes a time when it is a tough road to walk and the burden of the cross seems almost too much to bear. The words of Our Lord’s Prayer “As we forgive those who trespass against us,” which I have recited thousands of times in my life without so much as flicker of emotion, have now become exceedingly painful to utter. How can I forgive those monsters and come to see the face of Christ even in them? I say monsters because while I acknowledge the humanity of Coe and Young to be sure, I refuse to paper over their iniquity. To call it anything other than monstrous would be to sugarcoat reality. We must name evil as evil. And yet, the thorny issue of forgiveness continues to gnaw at me.

I suppose the only real answer to this dilemma is grace and the slow passage of time. I am now convinced that forgiveness does not always have to be an all-in (poker reference) decisive moment or choice in the strictest sense. That’s Hollywood, not real life. What I mean by that is that forgiveness may develop in stages rather than all at once. I forgive Young and Coe in a conceptual sense in that I know Christ compels me to love my neighbor and so I conform my will to His, but my heart has certainly not caught up with my mind and will at this point. I know time will not heal the wound altogether, but it may allow my emotions to settle from the boiling point and allow more clarity and charity on the issue. So, to put it succinctly: forgiveness, like most things human, is a work in progress, a process of becoming, rather than a finished work that takes place in the flash of a moment.

It would require a saintly sanctity that I do not possess to be able to forgive those two at the drop of a hat. I’m not sure if I ever will be, but I am going to try because the alternative is to live in Hamlet’s shoes, and that is too cold an existence for me. I would rather strive mightily toward forgiveness and fail repeatedly as Sisyphus does pushing the boulder up the hill than surrender my soul to the frozen depths of Cocytus. May the Lord who died for my sins preserve me and protect me as I slowly trudge alongside him on the road to Golgotha. Amen.


  1. My prayers are with you and your family.

  2. Thank you for sharing yourself and your story. I've heard that joy shared is multiplied, sorrow shared divided. I can't imagine your grief, and it's hard to imagine that anything/anyone could touch it. But I am so glad we share a faith that encourages us to take on the sufferings of others as that of our own. Know that I'm praying for you and your family. I recently discovered The Seven Sorrows of Mary and I promise to pray them for you. I also just discovered your blog and I hope to hear from you again soon...
    Fellow Catholic Educator and blogger