Guilty is Guilty

Do you know what I’m capable of?

I almost killed a man once.

My brother.

It’s not an easy story to tell.   I’m not proud of it.

I was twenty years old; he was twenty-four.  He was the one who handed me the shiny, chrome-plated .347 Magnum pistol. He should have known better.

“Just pull back the hammer and squeeze the trigger.  Be careful.  It has a hair trigg…”

I pulled the trigger.  Once.

The only problem was, the pistol was aimed right above his head.  Barely.  It was not on purpose; I just didn’t know what I was doing.  The blast took us by surprise, terrifying both of us for different reasons.

When he got up off the ground, I silently handed the pistol back to him.  Still trembling, I turned around and walked through the cow pasture in which we were standing, back to the parked car, and sat in the passenger seat waiting for him.  It was more than ten miles back to town.  I don’t think either of us spoke.

I don’t often think of the event.  When I do, it makes me shake again, at least inside.  Forty years later, I still hear the sound of that blast in my memory and see the terror in his eyes.  It must have mirrored my own.

I almost killed my own brother.  It’s not one of my best memories.

Do you know what I’m capable of?

I do.

I’m thinking tonight about the world in which we live.  It’s a world that is nimble on its feet when there is blame to assess.  If a terrible act has been committed, we leap to conclusions, picking out a scapegoat from the usual suspects without compunction.  Or proof.

And, when there is proof, if there are mitigating circumstances, we sweep them to one side and stand stubbornly on our judgments anyway.  No excuses are accepted, no compassion felt.

Guilty is guilty.  If you did the crime, you must do the time.

Funny thing.  As many times as not, our original conclusions are proven wrong. Our error exposed, we shrug our shoulders and move on to the next perpetrator.

It is true in our moral judgments, too.  Over the last months and years, I have learned of people I know personally who have failed morally.  They are adulterers and liars, dishonest and corrupt.  They are guilty.

And I rush to judgment, vowing never to be fooled again.  I have no compassion–no excuse is good enough.  I want nothing to do with these law-breakers.

Guilty is guilty.

I wonder.  If my hand had been two inches lower when that pistol went off, forty years ago, what would you think of me today?

“He killed his brother!  For no reason!  Just pulled the trigger and murdered him.”  I can hear the whispering voices now.

Two inches.  Two inches from being a killer.

I still hear the roar of the pistol in my head.  I know what I’m capable of.


“When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.'”
(John 8:7 ~ NIV)

“The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes;
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.”
(from The Merchant of Venice ~ William Shakespeare ~ English poet/playwright ~ 1564-1616)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved. 

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