“I have too much to live for to allow a bunch of cowards to take my joy. I refuse to give them my joy.”
- Anthony Ray Hinton
Between the coming of Easter and return of spring, I hope this month is brimming with joy and hope for you all! We each have so much to be grateful for: cherry blossoms lining the Schuylkill River Trail (hello there, beautiful Philly!), warmer weather, and you can fill in the rest. The point here is that joy may be ever-present because joy is a choice. Life is messy and often painful, but joy is experienced in the wide valley of these challenges and not, as many would have it, in their absence.
Last week I had the great fortune (and I really cannot stress GREAT enough) of attending a speech delivered by Mr. Anthony Ray Hinton. For those of you who do not know about Anthony, let me attempt to fill you in on some of the pivotal moments of his life:
At the age of 29, Anthony was arrested in Alabama and charged with, “two capital murders based solely on the assertion that a revolver taken from his mother’s home was the gun used in both murders and in a third uncharged crime” (Equal Justice Initiative).
Although an overwhelming amount of evidence proved Anthony’s innocence, he would spend 27 years on Alabama’s death row for no reason other than being a black man without the resources to hire a proper attorney.
Anthony spent his first 3 years on death row completely silent - angry at the society and justice system that had failed him, angry with God, and disinterested in using a voice that couldn’t save him from this verdict.
After those first 3 years passed, Anthony experienced the wisest of all revelations that while Alabama had stripped him of his liberties to walk about as a free man, the state could not dictate how he would endure his sentence as an imprisoned man - he could choose to love, forgive, or to imagine himself enjoying tea with the Queen of England as he saw fit. These choices still belonged to him.
Following his release, Anthony published a book called The Sun Does Shine. The pages of his book reveal more about his experiences on the row, navigating the criminal justice system, and ultimately his insights through those many years.
I apologize for sharing this post later than the biweekly precedent I’ve set - but I am still mulling over everything that Anthony shared with the congregation last week. The thought of spending 27 years on death row - and for crimes he was innocent of - is incomprehensible. More than that, I am still dumbstruck by the kind of internal strength Anthony possesses to withstand that torture and speak of joy!
Sure, this blog is supposed to be about peace - but joy, hope and peace are not so distinct from one another. Wherever one persists, it seems as though it is a matter of time before the others are invited onto the same stage. So what, then, do the rest of us gain from this prolific man’s message about joy? Let me share just one more citation from his book before I wrap this post up:
You can choose hope. You can choose joy. And for the love of Saint Rita, you can choose peace! These graces are at the ready for all who desire them, only they may not present themselves in the faces or circumstances you expect. Instead of praying to God in supplication for those gifts (though please, continue to pray for them!), have you considered asking where they may already exist? Ask and then open your eyes to the majesty around you.
Peace to you.
Kelsey Rode, Saint Rita Shrine Office Administrator