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On a cold, winter evening, Hubby Dear and I decided to treat ourselves to a movie. Friends had bequeathed their old DVD player to us and a neighbor had given us a DVD that she had designated a classic.
For three hours, we sat engrossed in the power and intriguing strangeness of “The Green Mile.” At odd intervals, sniffles stirred the stillness, but neither of us moved. Our silence was palpable. Words were inadequate for expressing the depth and intricacy of our feelings. We needed time and space to sort out things. To speak too soon would have been to diminish if not destroy the experience.
But soon we began to discuss the people in the movie. We noted the acute evil streak in Percy Wetmore, the sadistic young prison guard whose eagerness to administer and observe pain was appalling. His life view was limited to that of dead men walking. Any action he took simply underscored that fatal stance.
Just as overt and disgusting were the antics of “Wild Bill,” who delighted in making evil a real presence wherever he went. For him, death was delicious defiance; life a mockery. Pain inflicted upon others sent him into uncontrolled ecstasies of delight. There was no limit to his capacity for and expression of malevolence. Love, for him, was only a handy weapon for murder.
We could commiserate with the tenderness of a man called Dell, who would find simple pleasure and joy in nurturing a mouse, lavishing love on that tiny creature when human contact was severely limited. We could understand the convict whose stoic silence followed him down the infamous green mile, which led to the electric chair. We winced while witnessing John Coffey’s empathy with those who suffered unnecessary anguish. He chose to “swallow” human grief while others only wallowed in it. As John writhed with the agonized suffering of his companions, we cringed with its injustice, and our own inadequate responses to the inequities we had witnessed and ignored.
More soothing was the compassion demonstrated by the warden, as well as Paul Edgecomb, chief of cellblock E, and most of the other guards. Their humane treatment of men destined to die in a primitive electric chair gave us great solace. Even Brutus “Brutal” Howell belied his name. As a result, we, too, felt worthy of reverence and respect no matter what we had done.
The choice those guards made, the chance they took, against all reason and risking everything, in releasing an imprisoned healer so that the Warden Hal Moores’ fatally ill wife, Melinda, might be freed from her jail of pain, also lightened our burdens. It gave us hope that, despite all odds, someone would similarly care for us if we were in dire need.
We all walk a green mile of good entwined with evil, a green mile of evil embracing good in a stranglehold that both defies and announces resurrection.
Our journey from life to death, death to life entails encounters with our own Wild Bills, John Coffeys and Paul Edgecombs. We journey with haters, healers, and helpers, not all of whom can be easily or accurately identified. Surely it was not accident but allegory that impelled Stephen King to name his characters. From cross-carrying Eduoard Delacroix to John Coffey, whose initials bore his truth more than nomenclature was implied.
Confused by what appears to be evil because it is different, we jump to the wrong conclusions, give vent to our worst suspicions and close our minds and hearts before we can be opened to divine vision, the sight of God. Exclusivity dominates our mindset, defining inclusivity as faulted liberalism rather than the freedom of unity.
Jesus did not pray for his disciples alone. Jesus prayed “also for those who will believe in me through their word.” Their word, obviously the method of believing mattered less, perhaps it mattered little, to Jesus than did the message of faith. Good news can be heard everywhere, through everyone, if it is not obstructed. Evil may be present but it does not have to be empowered. It will die of its own accord, if good people continue to be good and to do good, no matter the circumstances or price to be paid.
Jesus prayed, not that evil would disappear, but that it would be transformed by good people into beneficence. Jesus died praying sin would not be held against his murderers. Stephen uttered the same prayer. So did John Coffey. Their prayers cannot be in vain.
Hatred must be healed into wholeness. Atonement must be identified as at-one-ment. Death must be defied; life upheld. Our personal and collective green miles must lead to a chair of life electrified with love and wired by compassion. Kindness must be done.
The prison bars of revenge, resentment, retribution or reluctance cannot jail our spirits nor dampen our enthusiasm. We must continue to be one, with each other and God. Our unity is the only sign a weak and wearied world can see. It is the only sound that can be heard above the din of doom and disaster. It is the only touch that will heal a broken universe.
Despite all division and diversity, in the face of all satanic cynicism, our unity will pierce invisible walls. When we swallow the terrors in which others would wallow, freedom is released and glory perceived. God’s name becomes real; God’s presence tangible. The air we breathe will be electric with God’s love. The grandeur of the gift, unwrapped with patient, unconditional love, is that we can be filled with the Spirit of God, if we so choose.
Priceless yet costly, precious but available, the Spirit of God affords us clear sight and unencumbered access to the tree of life, the city of God No one is exempt from the possibility; none of us can prevent entry. All must first travel the green mile of earth, bordered by fearsome, imprisoning cells that must be left behind.
We walk this mile accompanied by those who guard and guide us, not to the site of death but to the scene of life. It is a mile greened by the hope of things to come and the optimism of that which is. It is a mile of promises made and kept; chances given and taken. It is a path trodden by the homeward bound people of God who, tired of people being ugly to each other, tired of feeling and hearing pain, continue to cry “Come, Lord Jesus!” as we walk our own green mile to glory.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Novant Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.