Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Relax.
Because this isn’t yet another column about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh or Christine Blasey Ford, the California academic who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers.
I’m going to begin with them, though.
A divided nation was mesmerized last week, and further riven, by Kavanaugh and Ford’s conflicting testimonies before a U.S. Senate committee.
Ford maintained Kavanaugh once attacked her. He swore it never happened.
I have no way of knowing what actually occurred between them all those years ago. I wasn’t there. Like you, I have my guesses, but because they’re only guesses, I’ll keep them to myself.
However, I do want to talk about something related to all this.
It’s the question of redemption.
I’ve repeatedly heard people claim in the past week that if Kavanaugh attempted an assault when he was 17, he’s still a sexual predator today. If he was a loud, aggressive drunk then, he’s too unstable to sit on the high court now.
People don’t change, one online commenter wrote bluntly.
Well, on that point, I beg to differ. People often do change. Profoundly.
Of course, in this specific case, Kavanaugh’s belligerent, evasive, self-pitying, weepy performance before a Senate committee may demonstrate he indeed hasn’t evolved at all since his prep school days.
I’ll leave that to you, the FBI and the senators to decide.
But I’d argue many, many people do change over time, and typically for the better. Some change a great deal. I’d guess that most middle-aged (or older) folks bear little resemblance to who they were 35 years ago.
That said, I’ve met 80-year-olds who apparently hadn’t learned a danged thing in eight decades. They were just as self-absorbed and clueless as any teenager.
And a few people are clearly sociopaths.
Also, sometimes folks change dramatically for a while, then revert. To cite one of innumerable examples, Philip Seymour Hoffman, my favorite film actor, relapsed into drug addiction after 20-some years of sobriety and died in 2014 of an overdose.
But I’ve seen far more people permanently transformed for the better, for the long haul. Redemption and the changes that accompany it are the premises on which my whole religion is based.
I’m talking about just run-of-the-mill men and women who drank too much and then staggered to their cars and drove, perhaps with tragic results. Or they cheated on their faithful lovers. Or they talked trash about women or minorities or God or the flag. Or they flunked out of a school or six. Or they gambled away their paychecks. Or they cracked somebody’s head in a barroom brawl. Or they betrayed a dear friend to wrangle a job promotion.
They did things long ago they’d sure hate to see sprawled across the top of the New York Times tomorrow. But then they changed. Changed from the heart. And stayed changed.
Examine your own past. Anything there you’d rather not see blaring on the 6 o’clock news? Have you evolved since you did that embarrassing — or awful —thing?
Some redemptive changes just come with age. Life alters us. Our hormones plane out. We take our share of beat downs. We make a succession of mistakes until we finally stumble onto the right way of doing it. We meet a guru who points us to a better path. We grow up. We grow old.
Other changes we make intentionally. We purposely educate ourselves. We get counseling. We recognize our bad decisions for what they were and consciously decide to make good ones instead. We apologize to those we’ve wronged. We give our hearts to God. We recite positive-thinking mantras a million or so times.
I think most of us evolve throughout our lifetimes, even after we’re adults. We’re always changing.
I don’t know about you; I wildly misused my youth. I can hardly look back at myself from the ages of, say, 16 to my early 20s without cringing. Or laughing. Or weeping. I don’t even recognize that fool anymore. If I were a lawyer, I’d never get confirmed for any judgeship, high or low, not in today’s climate.
But that’s not who I am today. And I haven’t been that guy for a long time.
I’m willing to wager you’re not who you were 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, either.
None of this is to argue that Kavanaugh or anybody else automatically should be excused for all past misdeeds, maybe even those they committed as kids (although I’m ambivalent about holding former teenagers’ sins against them permanently, given that teens are, by definition, insane). Some bad deeds hurt others badly, and some perpetrators may need to pay a belated penalty.
My point is simply that the stupid or even reprehensible things people did long ago don’t necessarily define who they are today.
We should remember that redemption can be both real and powerful. In one fashion or another, most of us have experienced it.