Pain can be like a black mold
When you ask someone to remember something that happened 50 years ago, it would be perfectly understandable for the reply to be: "I don't know, I've slept since then!" A few things we are able call to mind after a long span of time -- yet those things that have to do with hurt, pain or loss seem to always linger. I was only five in 1963 yet at such a tender age, I still have a very hazy recollection of the events of a certain November weekend. Many of you reading this column have much sharper memories of the weekend before Thanksgiving that year -- the weekend during which the vast majority of the country sat transfixed in front of their TV sets, watching the aftermath of the John F. Kennedy assassination.
It seems trite to say JFK's death changed the United States. But it almost certainly did. Presidents travel today under immense security; no longer can we assume the best intentions from our fellow man. Sure, it was foolish for Mr. Kennedy to travel in an open limousine but he had done it before -- and it was such a beautiful day in Dallas. Alive, youthful, apparently vigorous at 12:30 p.m., he would be pronounced dead barely a half-hour later. The fact that the president was an ill man, racked by constant back pain and ravaged by the chronic effects of Addison's disease, was at the time unknown by the general public. He was tan, handsome and inspirational. Something intangible died in our country when Lyndon Johnson was told, "He's dead," at Parkland Hospital.
Pain stays with us. So does hurt. The years that pass don't wash them away. JFK's mother, Rose Kennedy, knew this. She would lose three sons to a violent death (Joe, Jack, Bobby) and a daughter to a botched lobotomy operation (Rosemary). Time, Mrs. Kennedy once said, doesn't heal all wounds. She put it poignantly: "In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them (hurts) with scar tissue and the pain lessens but it is never gone."
I read Mrs. Kennedy's quote to Josh Kezer over lunch the other day. Kezer found Christ while spending 16 years being wrongfully imprisoned in Jefferson City. Released in 2009, exonerated by a judge who declared him innocent, my friend is still transitioning to life outside a cell. Like veterans who say civilians cannot comprehend what it's like to be in war, Josh says many people do not understand him and his travails. Friends suggest that he "get over it." Yet his pain remains. It hurts to know that someone deliberately lied about his whereabouts on the witness stand. It hurts to know that the prosecution was -- well, let's not elaborate here. Suffice it to say that my friend deserved a better fate. I invited him into the pulpit not long after winning his freedom. On that day, Josh said that while he has the right to be bitter, he's not. He agrees with Rose Kennedy but adds this to her wisdom: "Bitterness over pain and hurt is like black mold. There's only one thing to do -- cut it out and throw it away -- or it will eventually kill you."
Josh credits his relationship with Christ with helping him deal with his own black mold. As I listened to him wax eloquently about hurt and pain and forgiveness over root beer and a hamburger, the words of our Lord intruded on my thoughts. Those words applied to Him during his agony on the cross; they apply to the Kennedy family in their many losses; they apply to Josh in his lost years; and they apply to you and me as we suffer pain and hurt in many experiences in our lives.
Hold onto these words -- they may be just enough to get you through some tough days: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:24)
Dr. Jeff Long is executive director of the Chateau Girardeau Foundation, is president of the Cape Girardeau Public Library board of trustees and teaches religious studies at SEMO.