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Friday, April 22, 2011

My Tribute to Phylicia - Part 1

I am not in a good mood today: Due to my self-imposed ban on watching “bad” news, I was unaware that the 16 year old North Carolina honor student, Phylicia Barnes, had gone missing in Baltimore back in December. Consequently, I experienced a sickening feeling when I noted that Donnie Simpson had posted a tribute on her behalf this morning on his Facebook page.

The lives of children are filled with “Goodbyes” from their parents—first day of school, first vacation without them, leaving for college, marriage, relocation, and too many times…death—and often those departures ignite emotions ranging from anxiety to dismay. I recall the anguish that I experienced when my son entered his first day of kindergarten—it was the first time that Linda and I had released him into the hands of total strangers. Thank God he returned unscathed, and is now an Advanced Placement sophomore in high school; however, life has not been so charitable to others.

I recall an episode of Oprah that Linda and I watched nearly 20 years ago. She interviewed the mother of a beautiful elementary school student, whose daughter had been lured into the automobile of the porter who worked at the apartment complex where they lived. He simply offered to take her to school, and little 11 years old Sophia had no concept of the notion of evil. Therefore, she hopped in the car, expecting to be dropped off a few miles from home, but to her horror he kept driving until he was 200 miles away. He dragged her into the woods; he raped her; he poured acid on her face; and then he left her for dead.

After we were told that she had gone through nearly a dozen surgeries to reconstruct her face, Oprah brought her onstage. I’ve always had trouble describing what I saw when she walked on stage, but never what I felt. What I saw was an innocent little girl whose concept of evil were animated characters who tried, but always failed to capture the good guys; but what I felt was the incipient rage that leads to murder. Sophia’s angelic face had been reduced to the sterile mold of a medical industry that had yet to acquire the skill to impersonate a human face.

To the dismay of Linda, I leaped from the sofa we were sharing and growled these words, “I could kill him!” It was the first time in my life that I had experienced the desire to murder. I do not recall what happened to Sophia’s assailant, but I have enough faith in God’s Word that guarantees that he reaped (or will reap) the calamity that he brought upon her and her family.

My son and I repeat this little ritual every night before I pray over him and bid him a great night’s sleep. We ask each other three questions: What is the most exciting thing that happened to you today; how much do you love me; and what are you going to do with God’s tremendous blessings?

I love my son enough to protect his life, even if it costs me mine or the individual who may be threatening his, and I am sure that most loving parents feel the same way. However, many of us who understand the responsibility of citizenship will also risk our lives to save people who we do not know. One of America’s unsung heroes is Arland D. Williams, Jr., the man who repeatedly gave up a rescue line for the other survivors of the Air Florida flight 90 that crashed immediately after takeoff from Washington National Airport in 1982. He drowned before the Coast Guard helicopter could return to pick him up.

Williams and many more men and women like him throw caution to the wind everyday in order to rescue those whose lives are in peril. It must be a human impulse to save the life of another, because I’ve heard heroic men and women, who have placed their own lives at risk to come to the rescue of others, say that they didn’t even think about it.

If it is an impulse for some to preserve life, what overtakes an individual to take a life?

Many people were dismayed, as I was, to hear of Phylicia’s apparent murder. However, notwithstanding that this beautiful young lady was an honors student who was due to graduate one year early to enter college and was probably as close to a perfect daughter as a parent could have, her death will go largely unnoticed in the cruel world that we live. In an age when too many children are spending 12 years in school and graduating not knowing how to respect their elders; or use the common courtesies of a civil society—please, excuse me, thank you; or work diligently for a sense of achievement, one of our promising leaders was cut down too soon.

America’s law enforcement capabilities are truly remarkable, and if a priority has been set to find Phylicia’s killer(s), it will not be long before the Maryland State’s Attorney will have a press conference announcing that the killer has been arrested. Beyond that statement, I hold out little hope that the perpetrator of this horrible murder will receive a proper sentence for his crime. Should it be a death sentence? That would be fair; however, the current climate in Maryland is to back-peddle away from capital punishment. And even if Phylicia’s executioner were to be tried in a capital case, all of the men now confined to Maryland’s Death Row were convicted of killing white citizens.

In a perfect world, Phylicia would be preparing to enter Towson State University this fall; however, unfortunately her parents are preparing for her memorial. I wrote earlier that life is filled with goodbyes, and Phylicia’s parents would have never believed that they would be saying their final farewells to her so soon; neither did I.

...to be continued