Justice per Antigone
In the class I teach at Santa Barbara City College, our English 111 final was scheduled for this early morning. Rather than a blue book, the students performed select scenes from Sophocles’ Antigone. As I watched from the perspective of audience rather than teacher, I thought about the power these ancient texts continue to hold over us. The enduring lessons they teach us. And at some point during the two hours, I thought about last Friday’s horrific accident: Raymond Morua’s DUI hit and run of Mallory Dies. How, as a community, ought we to respond?
Foremost, our concern is for Ms. Dies and her poor family as she fights for her life. But there’s more, I believe. Yes, we are outraged at the reckless actions on Mr. Morua’s part: driving while intoxicated and then fleeing immediately after. If the reports are correct, this young man will face justice and will be sentenced to prison. For the remainder of his life, he will be haunted by what he has done. And that is appropriate justice.
But how do we as a community and individuals respond — ultimately? For me, the answer lies in the books that endure.
The great lesson underlying Antigone is that justice must always be tempered with mercy. Without mercy, there can be no justice, no law.
Another model play is Shakespeare’s last: The Tempest. Prospero learns, in turn teaches us, to forgive. And through forgiveness, is himself granted redemption.
The students and I talked about this at the end of our class today. One student recalled Pope John Paul II who forgave his own would-be assassin. Today, the day of Nelson Mandela’s state funeral, we recalled why this man commands the stature and respect of the world’s heads of state, including President Obama and three former U.S. presidents. It’s not the Mandela who suffered 27 years in the notorious South African prisons. If that were all he had done, he would be famous, but would he be beloved and honored? It’s the released prisoner — then president — who refused vengeance throughout the years after. Who stood for forgiveness and, yes, redemption.
Right now, I am thinking particularly of Representative Lois Capps. Correctly, she fired Raymond Morua. Negligently, she allowed a felon to serve on her staff. But I hope that this Lois will be like the person I recall from UCSB days: that she will visit this man in his prison cell.
If she can, then there is hope for us in this season of renewal.