One could be forgiven for feeling a burning desire for Rob Meek’s killers to burn in hell, says Murray Williams.
Cape Town - An urgent beat sounded, and then the words, sung by a deep, powerful voice: “There’s a man going around taking names, And he decides who to free and who to blame, Everybody won’t be treated all the same, There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down, When the Man comes around, The hairs on your arm will stand up, At the terror in each sip and in each sup, Will you partake of that last offered cup? Or disappear into the potter’s ground, When the Man comes around.”
This is difficult to write, because it’s only January 3. The new year! 2014! The possibilities ahead!
The first song we played on the stroke of midnight was U2’s sensationally optimistic Beautiful Day! But instead, it’s the ominous guitar chords of Johnny Cash’s When the Man comes around which seem to fill the air.
I heard this song involuntarily, as a deep anger clouded the new year. Rage, at the news of Rob Meek’s murder while he had been celebrating New Year’s Eve with his wife and two daughters on the Wild Coast. He was shot by intruders.
His was not the only tragic death this festive season, but something struck a chord. The new year was barely a minute old. He was with his family, on whom he doted. He was “a gentle giant”, “a peacekeeper”.
The very fact that his surname was “Meek” seemed to make his killing represent all that is evil. The contrast between “the meek who shall inherit the earth”, and those who took his life.
For many, Cash’s promise of accountability seems to represent the only hope of justice. For even if we accept it would be wrong to hunt Meek’s killers down, and slay them in his name, Cash’s song promises revenge still, by an even higher power, who says “vengeance is mine, and I will repay”. In the past weeks, many Christmas messages carried this too – amidst the joy and goodwill to men. The promise of Judgment Day. A sermon I heard carried the words “army”, “sword”, “slaying”. Strong, militaristic, retributive terms. And it’s not only in some Christian vocabularies that one hears this, but many religions, social and political discourses the world over. The clamour for revenge crosses most human divides.
When news broke of Meek’s murder, one could be forgiven for feeling a burning desire for his killers to “burn in hell”, one way or another. But then I recalled another few lines, this time Samuel L Jackson, from the film Pulp Fiction.
He’s an assassin, holding up a seriously bad guy. But looking deep within himself, it dawns on him that maybe he, too, is in equal need of salvation. And so it is with Meek’s killers. As powerfully as one may want vengeance sown upon them, so we need to accept that these men are already in hell.
To have shot Meek in cold blood means they have already deteriorated so tragically far from their original human condition. Once, they were happy, playful kids, as all children once were, or hopeful teens, or ambitious young men.
Yet look at them now, look at what they were capable of, whoever they are. Meek has left us. His family are in our prayers, as they struggle with spiralling grief. And some of us are praying for revenge. But it’s his killers who need our prayers most. For it is they who are already truly damned.
* Murray Williams’s column Shooting from the Lip appears in the Cape Argus every Friday. Follow him on Twitter: @mwdeadline