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re-defining life sentence

June 8th, 2010 by

A couple months ago on NPR, there was an interview with an appellate lawyer, David Dow, who represents prisoners on Death Row.  At one point, Mr. Dow described a concept in death penalty juris prudence, referring to a person being “innocent of the sentence”.  This is different then being “innocent of the crime”, which in most cases, Mr. Dow’s clients are not.  What Mr. Dow explains is how a person can be guilty of a crime like murder and be innocent of their death sentence.

It’s a fascinating interview, and it really got me thinking.  How many of us bear the burden of a “life sentence” from which, in fact, we are innocent?  Yes, we’ve all screwed up at some point,  but does that mean we are beyond redemption?  Do we deserve a life sentence?  A death sentence?  How liberating would it be to realize that we are not our mistakes.  There is much more to us than some past definition: Perfectionist. Liar.  Addict. Bad Mother. Gossip. Narc.

Look deeply.  Go ahead.  Face what you fear.  Look into the mirror.  DO NOT LOOK AWAY.  Keep breathing.  Slow and steady.  Let the tears come.  Keep looking beyond the surface.  Get over the wrinkles, blemishes, and gray.  See them for the teachers they really are.  Breathe and gaze through the layers, back to the light.  A wildly beautiful child is there holding hands with the One older than time.  Welcome home.

I invite us all to find one thing we may be feeling guilty about having done or not done (said, or not said).  Now let’s ask ourselves how feeling guilty serves us?  For me, guilt grips with a choke hold.  I can’t breathe.  Now, instead of continuing to punish myself with unloving thoughts, I’m going to learn from the “mistake”.  I’m going to breathe in the gift my perceived error brought.  (Had I not lost my temper, I would not have been given the chance to ask forgiveness and experience its grace, as bestowed by my son’s tender “That’s okay, Mommy, I’m sorry too”, for example.)

I’m choosing to learn and grow, not suffer and lament.  Like Rumi urged, I am surrendering who I am for who I could become.  That feels even better than innocence.  That, friends, feels downright miraculous. Life is too damn good to be lived in chains.  Be free.  You got the power.

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