For the third day running, I was holding my teenage daughter as she cried. Buried in the jumble of sadness, disappointment, and shock was a story of mercy and the ugly underbelly we all have. That week, we started digging.
My daughter and her classmates were battling with the question of how someone can be both honorable and sinful. How a person can show love and have a dark side, and how a teenage mind reconciles the two real aspects of the same person.
A teacher was fired after allegations of wrongdoing. He was a teacher who loved his job and was loved by his students. He was funny and sarcastic and just edgy enough to be appealing to teens. His classes were tough, but the kids learned, and they came back to thank him.
And here’s where the question of mercy comes in: He committed suicide.
And these 16-, 17-, and 18-year-olds were tossed into a sea of paradox. Had he not killed himself they would not have known the details of why he left their school. Now his story is a news event.
How do they reconcile this amazing teacher with the guy they discovered he might have been? Who was he really? Was his life at school a lie? They were sad, and because these two ideas of him are so divergent, they were confused. They did not understand how he could be both things, and now that he is dead they will never know the answer.
Society tells us that if these allegations are true, he is vile. The kids’ experience tells them otherwise. They wonder if it is wrong to mourn the death of someone accused of bad things even if they knew him differently. Piled on top of their emotions is guilt.
I encouraged her to pray for mercy for him and to remember that suicide is an act of desperation. I asked her to imagine the shame and sadness he must have felt that propelled him to take such a drastic, permanent measure. Did he really want to die or did he see no other option?
I reminded her that God is a merciful God and that we all have a side of ourselves that we keep hidden. At this moment we have to have faith in His love. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us:
We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. (2283)
We as Catholic Christians who are called to love are called to mercy too. What these teens now know is that people can be both wonderful and not-so-wonderful. We all make bad decisions. We all fall to temptation and vice. We do stupid stuff and we deny it or hope it stays hidden. We hurt others. We hurt ourselves. Worst of all, we hurt God.
Until that week, I could not reliably find the good in people who do bad. They were categorically bad. I struggled to understand and accept that God is in every person. But I believe that from our sin, God can bring good and from this I have learned that there can be good and bad wrapped up in one frail human. My prayer is that the kids learn this too. All of us are susceptible to the evil lurking around, but thankfully there is mercy from God — and ideally from each other.
A few weeks later, the school year began. The kids sat in his old classroom with a new teacher and they felt sad. With God’s grace though, they will come out on the other side of this with a softer heart for the weakness in all of us. They will remember the fallibility of their fellow humans and be kinder and more merciful to each other.
Copyright 2020 Merridith Frediani