By Cheryl Ryan
Mercy is defined as ‘1. compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm, 2. used in expressions of surprise or fear’.
I had to look this up during a difficult night of reading. It was 3 a.m. and I couldn’t sleep. Sometimes when I can’t sleep I read whichever book is on my Kindle in hopes of shaking my own thoughts. It happened to be Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. It’s a tough read about the profound injustice in our penal code and the legal system towards people of color, disabled and poor U.S. citizens.
When I picked up where I’d left off I found Bryan Stevenson, in his autobiographical story, broken by his inability to get a prisoner off of death row. Hours before his execution, the prisoner asked the guards if he could call Bryan and thank him for all of his efforts in trying to save him. After receiving the call, Bryan, who’d committed to being at the execution, sat through the execution with tears streaming down his face questioning his life’s work.
As he looked at all the files of clients on death row or life in prison he wondered why he’d chosen to surround himself with such anguish? Ultimately, he concluded that like many of us he is somewhat broken and that showing mercy was his attempt at redemption.
I hadn’t heard the word mercy in a very long time, which is what drove me to search for its meaning. Does the fact that we don’t use the word often mean that we aren’t a merciful society? Or maybe it’s just that I haven’t used it enough. I’ve never considered myself to be in a position to show mercy. But the more I thought about it we as parents, employers, friends and family all have opportunities, big and small, to show mercy. We may not have the power to send someone to prison but we do have the power to show kindness and forgiveness even when it may not be deserved.
Sleep was not in the cards for me that night. But maybe reading that passage in the wee hours of the morning had a greater impact than it might have if I’d been reading it surrounded by daytime mundane distractions.
I’ve thought more about mercy than I have in a very long time and I hope that if or when there is an opportunity I will recognize it and act upon it in a way that I may not have. Have you had an occasion to show mercy? If so, when?