You know, you’re a sixteen year old kid, living in Philadelphia, and you hear about some daily horror in the news, and you hear “tied to a fence” and “left to die” and you just think, so it goes, that’s Humanity–but you can’t picture it–
And then, maybe five years later, your sister is in the Laramie Project, the play they made about Shepard’s death, and you’re moved by the pathos, the unique horror and reality of it, those brute facts that say: *you* could be tied to a fence, and left to die, your brother, or your sister, or your son, could be tied to a fence, and left to die, and you learn a little more about it.
And then, ten years have passed, and the country seems to start to shift, and you’re in law school, to get a job, and you learn again about justice, as if for the first time, and you learn about fairness, and you learn about civil rights, and you read judicial opinions that make crystal clear that the Constitution *requires* marriage equality–And another five years pass, and you’re a civil rights attorney, and you’re defending a couple who were fired because they were a couple, and they were both men–
And then its been 20 years, and who knows who Matthew Shepard would have been, or what he would have done, or who he would have loved, the children he might have had, and you measure that against your own life, and you think good, goodness, is so fragile, and evil, pure evil, darkest evil, is so simple, easy, senseless, it is a wonder there is any good at all in this world we live in together–but there it is–
There is good. There’s the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose not letting anybody forget Matthew Shepard or what was done to him or why he was killed. There’s police officers and paramedics who ran into gunfire to help save lives at a risk to their own. There’s protesters and activists who refused to stay home when Nazis and White Supremacists marched through the streets of Charlottesville. There’s football players and owners who locked arms with each other to respect the right of their colleagues to protest. There are teachers, and doctors, and mechanics, who earn their daily bread by helping others. There are truck drivers who leave their families and drive for weeks at a time to make sure our supermarkets have food in them. There are engineers who keep our lights on, and our hospitals running.
So it’s been reported recently, what with these tragedies, that when Fred Roger was a child, and he saw or heard about scary news, or tragedies, his mother would tell him to look for the helpers, that he would always find people who were helping.
No one helped Matthew Shepard on the night he was left to die.
It was the next morning. It was Aaron Kreifels, the cyclist who found him. It was Reggie Fluty, the first police officer to arrive at the scene, who used her bare hands to clear the airway in Shepard’s mouth. It is the doctors and nurses who treated him.
And against that, we have the two empty souls who killed him, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. An A and an R helped, and an A and an R killed.
It may be that good will not triumph over evil in this world. It may be only, that if good fights, if good gives everything it has, it may balance the evil, it may prevent evil from triumphing. Evil cannot be defeated, because it precedes good, it grounds good, it is the absence of good, it is a lack, not a presence, and a lack is always more common than a presence–so–evil cannot be defeated. But it can be fought. One must choose to do so, for one’s own reasons. I cannot force you to choose good, I cannot explain why you should choose the good, I cannot defend myself for choosing the good, and I cannot judge you for not choosing good.
But for me, I choose the good. I choose to fight for the good. I will not always succeed. But one must choose, and that is my choice. I choose to help.