Retribution: Giving Life Where It Was Taken.

I woke up this morning with a heavy heart. I couldn’t put my finger on why. Was it the rain? Had I dreamt something disturbing? Was it the full moon? Was it just “one of those days”? It took a few minutes, and some coffee, before I realized today is Clinton‘s birthday. He would have turned 18, had his life not been taken in May of this year. I miss him so, so much.

I’ve done a lot of wrestling within my heart, mind, and soul about Clinton’s death. I’ve tortured myself with the “what ifs” and the “if onlys”. I’ve wished for a time machine to go back and change things. None of that helps, but I guess it’s part of grieving. The untimely death of a young person is never easy, especially when that person’s life is taken by another angry, confused young person. God knows I saw my fair share of those in my ten years of living in Cape Town. It never becomes easier to see.

It’s convenient to direct our anger towards the young, emotional girl who stabbed Clinton in an act of rage, especially knowing that she is currently serving no time for the murder. I think it’s human nature to crave vengeance, to want retribution. We want people to feel what we feel, lose like we have lost. In my most emotional moments, when it comes to those who I care the most about, I might succumb to the quick fix of thinking I desire retaliation, but my logic usually comes to my rescue and tells me otherwise. I realize (at least in this situation) the problem is systemic, and even the young girl who took Clinton’s life is a victim herself.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m not letting her off the hook. I never believe killing is justified, ever! I definitely believe people should be held accountable for their actions, and taking someone else’s life is a colossal deal. But knowing the complexity surrounding the youth growing up in the communities of Cape Town, it is important for me to remember where to direct my anger. The lack of support structures, the drug and alcohol use, the prevalence of abuse and violence, the mistreatment of women and children, gangsterism, unemployment, poverty, lack of social services, a failing education system…all of these things, and more, creating a big, bad, ugly monster called “the system”, holding our children hostage, and raising them.

It is therefore immature of me to be angry at a young girl who grew up in an environment, governed by this corrupt “system”, where violence is the answer to many problems. It is human to seek retaliation, but not fair. The warped part of me, telling me that, “Clinton would want me to want vengeance,” is a voice that comes out of ten years of living within that very system, and a depraved part of myself. At times, even Clinton himself succumbed to pressures of the system he found himself in, but for the most part he was a loving, tender, caring, kind-hearted, wonderful young man, who brought life, love and laughter to those given the pleasure of knowing him.

So, when I meditate on his life and death, and what it might mean to truly honor him today, I can’t help but think the most productive form of retribution is not to allow emotion to take control, and wish ill-harm on anyone else. Misdirected anger or sadness won’t bring back lost lives, and will only contribute to more. The most life-bringing memorial we can have for Clinton, and others like him whose lives have been taken, is to direct our vengeance towards the corrupt system that surrounded them; use the emotion we feel, whether it be heartbreak or anger, as fuel for positive action in battling the system itself, seeking change. Positive retribution is not taking another life, or wishing harm to the one who took it, but rather giving life where it was taken.

Though I’m thousands of miles from Cape Town, and feel even further, I choose to honor Clinton on his birthday today, with positive, hopeful, life-giving thoughts and wishes to the millions of children living in the cracks of the corrupt system of Cape Town, and similar communities throughout the world. We cannot bring back those already lost, but we can put our effort and energy into protecting the young people who are currently living within the system. We can give life where it was taken, offer hope and restoration where there is devastation. I think Clinton would want that.

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2 Responses to Retribution: Giving Life Where It Was Taken.

  1. Randy Dalton says:

    Great article and tribute to a sweet, funny young man. I know your heart is hurting as are many who are missing Clinton today. You were an important role model to him and he loved you dearly.

  2. wanga says:

    oh Ryan, how beautiful and powerful and true! I found this line particularly stirring ” “the system”, holding our children hostage, and raising them”. Yes that is exactly what it does my friend.

    The other week I was sitting with some well-meaning Christians who are otherwise loving and nice people. One of them was sad and disillusioned because he had prayed for and helped a young woman get off the streets and get stable employment as a helper with a nice family for 2 years but now this girl was back on the streets because her employers (with whom she was living) had relocated to Europe and so she had no place to stay. So this brother in the Lord was asking why God would allow this to happen, get someone off the streets only to allow them to go back again. And our cell leader was the first to respond and what she said stunned me. She said “do not worry yourself about that girl, you did your bit, she chose to go back to the streets, these people choose that kind of life, believe me.”. And everyone except me, the guy who had shared and SIya agreed with her! I was outraged! And I could see that the poor guy who had shared about this girl felt the same thing. After an intense discussion I said ‘we should be careful that we do not speak carelessly about things that we do not fully understand lest we sin against the Lord and His children’. Needless to say it was quiet tense in the meeting after that. Truly where ignorance is bliss……

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