I’m driving to work this morning—early for once. Substantially early. Like early enough to stop for McDonald’s breakfast and totally negate my 9pm workout I did last night. Early enough to not be almost-rear-ending every car in front of me on US-23. Early enough to try to snap some cute “OMW to work” selfies to send to my boyfriend. Early enough to actually pay attention to the headlines on Morning Edition.
Let me preface this: I began listening to National Public Radio in about 7th grade. It came on the classical station in my hometown in southern Columbus, OH—and I desperately wanted to be that girl that “listened to classical.” So I programmed my stereo (remember stereos?) to 89.7 and forced myself to listen to flute-solos and dramatic orchestras whenever I had the chance. But every now and then, I would catch the low, smooth tone of whomever was hosting whatever NPR segment was on. And it always caught my attention.
I abandoned my self-acquired taste for NPR around 2008, when Obama was running for president. It was a insanely insecure time in my life. I hated Obama—not because of his promises or his political stance. I liked all of those. Very much. I hated Obama because he shone this light on the fact that I was black and that none of my friends were. And that all of those souls that I thought were “my friends” actually harbored a lot of insensitive and racist emotions/tensions. (As did their parents.)
So, I gave up NPR. I gave up classical music. I gave in to apathy—because it was far easier and less painful than caring.
Fast forward to about 2 months ago. I’m 23 and in a pretty great place in life. I’ve just begun a new job. I’ve moved out of a toxic living situation (that’s another blog post for another day) and into a beautiful one! I’m single and dating. And, for the first time in my life, I’m happy with who Kelsea is: black, female, opinionated, independent, and slightly rediscovering her affection for classical music.
So when my new coworker gets into a very longwinded story about his drive home in the worst bout of traffic he’s ever experienced—and nonchalantly mentions that he had “turned on NPR,” my heart fluttered. It was as if someone brought up Discovery Zone or One Saturday Morning. Nostalgia flooded my veins. You used to be obsessed with NPR. And in an attempt to only allow things that bring me pure joy into my life—I reprogrammed my car radio to 89.7 and have been faithfully getting in touch with the world ever since.
Back to this morning: I’m making a note in my head about how much NPR has been giving attention to the racial/police tensions in America, currently. I’m wondering if this is simply because this is the largest news story of the moment, or if my conspiracy-theorist-of-a-mind is picking up on some deeper injustices. Just as I’m formulating all of the things that could really be going on in the world that we are not privy to because of our passion for race-relations—that same soothing, deep tone announces a topic change.
“James Holmes, who was found guilty of murder last week, faces either the death penalty or life in prison without parole.”
My drained soul is happy for a break from stories on police body cameras and confederate flags. I turn the volume to the right and start to heed the incoming story. The reporter is speaking, of course, of the Aurora, Colorado man who shot up a Batman movie in 2012 in a very calculated, very senseless act. My brain immediately goes back to the last movie I saw, and how I pictured someone whipping out a gun at one point during the film.
Today, evidently, is the day that a jury will decide whether this man, who has already been found guilty, deserves life in prison or the death penalty. The story continues on the radio and now an audio clip is being played of the defense and prosecution’s closing statements. The prosecution, obviously, wants justice in the form of death. The argument is backed by the eerie sound of the families of the victims sobbing in the courtroom. The attorney even lists off the names of those killed. Right now, it seems like a no-brainer. This man should die. A slow and painful death. What a heinous thing to do. To innocent people. What fear he’s struck in the lives of everyone around this nation. We’ve got to send a message.
Then, the audio clip of the defense is played—who wants life in prison for Holmes. The attorney is a passionate sounding woman who pleas with the court that her client is a proven, mentally ill person. She agrees that his actions were inexcusable and atrocious. But argues that killing him, a mentally unwell soul, is not justice. That it will not bring the victims back. That it will do nothing but add to the number of souls lost.
Now, I’m stuck.
I was convinced I wanted this dude dead like 20 seconds ago. Now I’m questioning what kind of message killing a mentally ill person sends. And what my true stance on the death penalty is. I’m wondering if this man will know some sort of peace in prison. My mind goes to Orange Is The New Black. Could this guy find a boyfriend in jail? Lead a less-than-flattering, but still very manageable and semi-productive life? Do I want that for him? Or do I want him to die? Do I want him to meet his Maker, immediately?
And while I’m on the subject of death—can I tell you that nothing scares me more? I’m a Christian. I believe God came to the Earth in human form (Jesus Christ) and bore the sins of the world and was sacrificed so that I could enjoy the Holy Spirit and eternal life in Heaven. I’m not sure if you die and get a jet-pack to the pearly gates, like right away, or if you stay asleep until the rapture… or what. I don’t think that’s super important, honestly. But when I close my eyes and think about dying and the concept of eternity… I get frightened. Scared. Tumultuously upset. It’s the great unknown. The greatest unknown.
So now that I’m no longer wrestling with being an African-American, or my political views, or what my white friends think of me—I am now struggling with issues like what I think about the death penalty.
And, as always, the answer is, “I don’t know.”