When I was a kid, my teachers and parents taught me that a person is believed to be innocent until they are proven guilty. Back then, I had no idea how important that concept was, but it sounded pretty good to me, so I just accepted it.
Recently, my husband and I went to the movies and watched the story of Richard Jewell, the security guard who discovered the bomb at Centennial Park in Atlanta, Ga. during the 1996 Olympics. Less than 48 hours after the initial moments when the media was descending upon Mr. Jewell to tout him as a hero, offer book deals, and praise him in national interviews, they were smearing his name and accusing him of being the person who actually planted the bomb. While there was no clear evidence that pointed to Mr. Jewell, a profile of what the FBI called a “lone bomber” fit him, and the media used it to taunt him without mercy. As I watched the story play out on the screen, my heart broke for Mr. Jewell and his mother. And, while Mr. Jewell was eventually exonerated, he died only 11 years later (at the age of 44) of heart failure.
I was 26 years old when this happened, and I watched the TODAY show every morning. I remember seeing Mr. Jewell in an interview with Katie Couric the day after the bombing, when she referred to him as a hero and he spoke only of the rescue workers and police who helped the victims as being heroes. While I remember that interview clearly, I only have a vague memory of when the whole world turned against him. This man’s life was ruined by lies and suspicion that made him appear guilty before he even had a day in court, and I simply lost interest. Why wasn’t I appalled at what was happening to a fellow human being? Had I forgotten what my teachers and parents had taught me when I was a child?
To answer my own questions, at that time in my life, I was completely self-absorbed and existing only to feed my active addictions. I didn’t have the energy to care about anyone other than myself. But today, as I journey along on a path steeped in recovery from my addictions, it is essential for me to practice selflessness as much as possible. I have a lot of work to do in that area; but I have recognized growth over the years. Part of that growth is in those moments when my heart aches for the struggle of another. Another part of that growth is when I change my own behavior because of an awareness I gain from wisdom shared with me.
Clint Eastwood’s move, Richard Jewell, shared much wisdom with me. I pray that the next time I see a story in the news, on social media, or simply hear details via word-of-mouth, God will give me the ability and willingness to recognize that information for what it is – an incomplete piece of the truth, an outright lie, or something in between the two. I pray also that before I judge that information or share it with anyone else, I will do what I can to find out what the truth is. If I can’t find the truth, I pray that I can keep an open mind about it until I can acquire more information, and that I can keep the information to myself.
I know that I will, most likely, fall short of this ideal response. But, I also know that when the life and reputation of a person is on the line, it is worth praying for it!