Last week, in Washington, D.C., something very astounding occurred. Elwin Wilson, a former KKK member, apologized to the black activist, Congressman John Lewis, in a rare but welcome meeting at the congressman’s office on Capitol Hill. The story behind this notable apology can be summarized as follows: At a bus station in South Carolina in 1961, the two young men came face to face with each other for the first time. One, a member of the KKK, and the other, a young civil rights leader bent on changing the laws. The young KKK member attacked the civil rights leader and left him beaten and bloodied on the ground. 48 years later, the two men came face to face for the first time since that incident occurred. The former KKK member, Elwin Wilson now 72, traveled to Washington D.C. to personally apologize to Congressman Lewis for attacking him so viciously. At the meeting, Mr. Wilson told reporters that for years, he tried to block the memories of what happened on that day, but he just could not do it. Congressman Lewis accepted Mr. Wilson’s apology without any hesitations then told reporters, “I was very moved. He was very, very sincere and I think it takes a lot of raw courage to be willing to come forward the way he did. I think it will lead to a great deal of healing.” You can learn more about this incredible story by clicking on this link: http://www.yahoo.com/s/1026994
Now, the mere fact that such an apology occurred the way it did merits praise by itself. I see it as a true example of the type progress that is occurring in our country. It is yet more evidence of how the archaic dividing beliefs of the racial prejudices that date back to the founding of our nation are slowly receding. That is not to say that racial injustice has been completely eliminated from our society, because unfortunately such social ills are still present in our everyday reality. A look at a newspaper on any given day can provide numerous examples of the distance that we have to go before we can fully claim that racial and social injustice is truly behind us. However, the example of atonement and forgiveness that Mr. Wilson and Congressman Lewis have provided can give us hope that our exigent social situation is moving forward in a more positive direction. For me, this type of apology is akin to sowing a seed of optimism in a land soiled by the acrimony of our human nature. Yet, within this decorous act, there exists the aspiration that we can all learn from our past mistakes, correct them, and inspire others to move away from general direction that leads to such transgressions.
Within all of this, I found something that I’d like to highlight and expand upon with this group. In the interview, Mr. Wilson claims that they motivation for his CHANGE of heart came about when a friend asked him, “If you died right now, do you know where you’d go?” Mr. Wilson responded by saying, “To hell.” Mr. Wilson then goes on to say, “I just had a lot on my shoulders and in my heart. I just wanted to get right with people. It took me years to know what I did was wrong.” For me, this was one of the most interesting components of the whole story. I’ll tell you why, but first I would have to ask that you please suspend your beliefs about heaven and hell for just a few moments. Now, whether or not you can accommodate this particular request, I would just ask that you please read on at your own discretion.
Growing up as a Christian, I was taught that when one dies, their soul is judged by God based on how they lived their life on Earth. If an individual led a pious life, then they would proceed onto heaven. If they lead a nefarious life, then they go off to hell (then there is always purgatory, but for now, I’d like leave it out of this discussion). For many of us who grew up as Christians, this is the basic paradigm of the afterlife. But for a while now, I’ve been looking at things a little differently and have developed a new way of getting a handle on at this fundamental model. I imagine that you’ve heard the claim that before an individual is about to die, their whole life flashes before their eyes in an instant. With this in mind, I’ve often wondered if at the point of death (and before the soul disincorporates) the soul of the dying person reviews all of the memories of their life in order to finally determine whether that life was genuinely good or bad? Could such a re-examination be analogous to passing judgment on the soul based on the collective actions that the individual committed during their lifetime? Let me explain what I am trying to get at.
I am of the belief that one of the greatest rewards that a soul can have (beyond this physical realm) is to hold onto the collective memories of the life that it experienced during its physical existence. The account of that existence or “the story of the soul” (as I like to call it) is the individual chronicle that is the final testament of that soul’s accomplishments or cataclysms. For example, if a person lived a virtuous life full of rectitude that produced happiness and a sense of great triumph, then upon death, the soul would simply review, relive, and retire to such memories and emotions, ultimately replaying them over and over and rejoicing in a sort of "heaven" of its own making. Conversely, if one lived a corrupt life full of wickedness that produced despondency and misery, then upon death, the soul would simply review, relive, and retire to such memories and sentiment, ultimately replaying those memories over in great distress in a sort of "hell" of its own making. So under such a scenario, upon death, one’s soul is left to retire into a heaven or hell of its own creation that characterized by the actions and deeds of that person as they occurred during their life on Earth.
Now, I want to make it clear that I am not attempting to sway anyone’s religious positions. I would merely like to share a personal view with you about the power of our deeds during life and how they could play out for the soul in the greater scheme of things. To reel this back to the starting point of my essay, this is all to say that when Mr. Wilson decided that he did not want to go to hell and “just wanted to get right with people” he was correcting his past offense and bringing into being the actions that would allow for him to enter into heaven (per his religious creed). I would say that under the afterlife perspective that I just outlined to you, Mr. Wilson is creating a sort “heaven on Earth” for his soul through his current deeds because for some time now, he’s been going through a “living hell” that was a result his past affront to Congressman Lewis. It now seems that the lasting damage between Mr. Wilson and Congressman Lewis may have finally been reconciled through the heart-felt apology and act of public repentance initiated by Mr. Wilson. Congressman Lewis’s acceptance of the apology not only endorses his own goodwill, but also helps to authenticate Mr. Lewis’s contrition, as well as to complete this important lesson on the redemptive power of love.
So why did I share my thoughts with everyone on this topic? Well, I was simply inspired by two individuals who wanted to do right, and who in turn, inspired me to write. I also wanted to seriously reflect on the example that these two men provide for us. More than before, I feel that we are again becoming a great society that is slowly realigning itself with a greater sense of civility and one that is on the verge of fulfilling the promise of a better future. Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware that we still have many inequities to move past, before that better tomorrow arrives. However, it seems that some of the seeds for a greater and more just future have been planted by Mr. Wilson and Congressman Lewis. I’m hoping that we’ll have the courage and wisdom to help cultivate more such seeds throughout all of the places that we touch.
Thanks for reading this far. Please feel free to share this with anyone who would benefit from it.
Wishing you all the best,