“He didn’t know the subject matter?”

sun-does-shineFrom The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton:

“Judge,” my attorney began, “let me make aware to the court that Mr. Hinton has requested the opportunity to testify. I have no particular idea of the subject matter of testimony, so there’s no way of questioning him. I don’t see how it could make any difference if he just testifies.”

He didn’t know the subject matter? The subject matter was this court just convicted me of two cold-blooded murders without any evidence. The subject matter is my attorney just let them find me guilty of two capital offenses based on a third attempted murder that happened while I was at work. The subject matter was my attorney hired a ballistics expert who could hardly see and who was crucified on the stand. The subject matter was the State of Alabama wanted to strap me to Yellow Mama and murder me for crimes I didn’t commit. The subject matter was somebody was trying to kill me and I was fighting for my life. That was the subject matter.

5 stars

sun-does-shine2018 has been a very good reading year for me, and I can recommend several books to you, depending on your tastes and interests. But I finished one last night that I want everyone I know to read. I can say that about two books I’ve read this year, actually: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, which I’ve already mentioned here before and now The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton (Bryan Stevenson wrote the foreword and plays a major part in Hinton’s story.)

Ray Hinton’s story of being convicted of a crime he did not commit and incarcerated on death row for almost thirty (THIRTY!) years is all at once heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and blood-boiling — yet it somehow manages to be hopeful and encouraging. It helps that Ray is just plain likeable, a regular guy in Alabama who loves his mama and good food and football but was treated with monstrous injustice by the State of Alabama. (I hate to lump all of the individuals who did him harm into that innocuous “State” term.) It is maddening to read about how the system does not work for poor black people like it does for those who can afford good representation.

I so badly want to believe that governments can be trusted, that people in power are acting according to the law, doing their duty. This ISTJ wants to believe that rules are followed. But they’re not. People and systems can be corrupt and lazy. And, after all, we’re born with that bent:

total-depravity

Ray Hinton was wrongly convicted in 1985 and finally set free in 2015. I was a junior in high school in 1985, and between then and 2015, I went to Auburn, met my husband, had two children, lived all over the world, got divorced, and started a whole new life with Paul. So for just about my entire adult life, Ray was sitting in a tiny cell in Alabama, his freedom stolen from him by people who were dishonest, incompetent, selfish, racist, and just plain evil.

[Hinton’s book, along with Just Mercy, has me re-thinking some things related to the death penalty. Hinton believes that capital punishment equals murder, but I don’t agree. When the state takes the life of a person who has taken a life, I don’t believe it is the same thing as murder. But if the person is innocent? And has not been tried fairly? Well, that is murder.]

Here’s a little glimpse of Ray Hinton, in the early years of his imprisonment:

No one can understand what freedom means until they don’t have it. It’s like being wrapped in a straightjacket all day every day. You can’t make a choice about how to live. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have a choice to make–any choice. I think I’ll go for a walk rather than go to bed right now. I think I’ll have chicken for dinner. I think I’d like to take a drive and just see where I end up. I didn’t begrudge Lester [Ray’s best friend] his life and his choices. I was happy for him. I wanted nothing more than for him to be happy. I would be sorry to miss the wedding and sad not to be able to stand next to him and be his best man. I had to get out of this place. I thought about the children I would never have if I didn’t get off death row. I wanted a son. I wanted to play baseball with a son someday. And basketball. I wanted to take him to Auburn games so he knew there was only one team in Alabama that mattered. I wanted to show him the woods, and the river, and the quiet beauty of a night spent in the country. I wanted to show him how to fish and teach him how to drive. I wanted to show him that anything was possible in this world if you only had faith.

My breath caught and I stopped pacing.

Faith. How could I teach anyone about faith when I didn’t have it?

“Oh God. Help me, God…”

(You know right where I smiled in that first paragraph, don’t you?)

And I have to share this bit from when Ray asked the warden for permission to start a book club on death row:

“Look,” I said. “These guys need something to focus on besides what the guards are doing and not doing for them. Besides the heat. Besides the fact that our food tastes like dirt. You know? It’s a way to keep the peace. A book club will help things stay more peaceful.”

He nodded.

“You can’t have guys spending twenty-three hours a day thinking about death. It makes them crazy. And when people go crazy, who know what they’ll do.” It may have been a bit much, but it was the truth. I wanted him to believe that if we had books on the row, it would keep the inmates quiet. But really I knew that it would set them free. If the guys had books, they could travel the world. They would get smarter and freer. There was a reason back in the slave days the plantation owners didn’t want their slaves to learn to read. Charlie Jones [the warden] probably had family who once owned my family, but I wasn’t going to bring that up. I wasn’t going to show him anything but how a book club would keep the peace.

He got his book club, at least for a little while.

I’ve gone on long enough here, so I’ll just say one more time: Please read this book. Both  Just Mercy and The Sun Does Shine were loaned to me (Thanks, CK!), but I’m going to get my own copies. If you do read them, let me know what you think.

summer reading

This summer is a blur of heat, humidity, endless thunderstorms, and lots of reading. Here’s what I finished:

JUNE

  1. The Dinner – Herman Koch
  2. Rainbirds – Clarissa Goenawan
  3. The Relationship Cure – John M. Gotten
  4. The Lake House – Kate Morton
  5. The Lola Quartet – Emily St. John Mandel
  6. Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain

JULY

  1. Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan
  2. The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry – Jon Ronson
  3. This Is How It Always Is – Laurie Frankel
  4. Sunburn – Laura Lippman
  5. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption – Bryan Stevenson

AUGUST

  1. My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante
  2. Charity Detox: What Charity Would Look Like If We Cared About Results – Robern D. Lupton
  3. Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America – Michael Ruhlman
  4. Visible Empire – Hannah Pittard
  5. The Supper of the Lamb – Robert Farrar Capon
  6. The Paris Wife – Paula McLain
  7. Off Season – Anne Rivers Siddons
  8. The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street – Karina Yan Glaser
  9. Snap Judgment (Samantha Brinkman Book 3) – Marcia Clark
  10. The Widows of Malabar Hill – Sujata Massey

This is more reading that I’d planned or expected, and I believe it all happened because:

  • I tend to take a hiatus from knitting in the summer.
  • Our internet was messed up a lot this summer, and I gave up trying to connect to Netflix
  • No knitting or Netflix? Then I’m reading!

My favorites?

What about you? What did you read? What are your favorites?

4

seasideFour years ago today, Paul and I were married. [Insert the time flies cliché here.] Seriously, it’s really hard to believe it’s been four years because this is my life now and that other life feels so very far away. Life is funny, y’all, and I know that’s not the first time I’ve said that here.  I could never have predicted the twists and turns in the story God has written for me. But you know what? He’s the best Author!

Without divine intervention, our paths would never have crossed. But a friend of his mentioned something to a friend of my mom’s and then we went on a blind date (my first and last!) and here we are.

This is the second marriage for both of us, and as the pastor who married us counseled, that can actually be a real blessing. We know some pitfalls and are alert in ways we might not have been the first time around. It’s also a challenge because we married as adults in our 40s and 50s, “set” in our ways, with very different backgrounds and experiences. We’ve had to figure some things out as we learn how to live with each other and our histories.

But as we’ve traveled this path for these four years, this man has taken my hands nearly every morning and prayed for us, our marriage, our families, and others we know who need prayer. He thanks God for me and us. (He learned to pray about everything from his mom, and I really wish I could have met her – I will one day!).

I’m grateful.

God is good, and that’s not just some trite little phrase trotted out on a special occasion.

He is really good and faithful in ways that astound me.

Grateful and surprised and content,

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monday miscellany

From here and there:

~ John McCain, Prisoner of War: A First-Person Account

~ Reconsidering the Astonishing Literary Legacy of James Michener. Left out were my favorites, Hawaii and The Source.

~ Sunday Church Services Are Not About You. Yes, especially this:

Moving from me to us also impacts how we use sound systems and choose music. When the sound is too loud, individuals in the congregation feel isolated and anonymous. Lower levels let us hear one another, encouraging participation.

~ Auburn football kicks off THIS WEEK, y’all! So let’s go Beyond Bo: Let’s remember a bunch of great Auburn running backs.

~ The problem with falling in love

~ Dream job alert (Thanks Milda!)

Happy Monday y’all!

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“Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit…”

kitchen-confidentialAfter hearing the sad news of Anthony Bourdain‘s suicide earlier this summer, I decided I should finally read Kitchen Confidential, the book that got him noticed. Y’all, that man could write. He was flawed, for sure, but so very vibrant and passionate about food and cooking and the people he worked with. And he was a straight-shooter, which I appreciate. Somehow I’ve ended up reading more than a few food-related books this year, and I really enjoyed this one.

Here are a few bits and bobs I highlighted as I read:

Cooking is a craft, I like to think, and a good cook is a craftsman — not an artist. There’s nothing wrong with that: the great cathedrals of Europe were built by craftsmen — though not designed by them. Practicing your craft in expert fashion is noble, honorable and satisfying. And I’ll generally take a standup mercenary who takes pride in his professionalism over an artist any day. When I hear ‘artist’, I think of someone who doesn’t think it necessary to show up at work on time.

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No one understands and appreciates the American Dream of hard work leading to material rewards better than a non-American.

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Somebody who wakes up with a scratchy throat and slight fever and thinks it’s okay to call in sick is not what I’m looking for.

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Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.

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Bigfoot [one of his bosses] understood — as I came to understand — that character is far more important than skills or employment history.

~~~~~~

Skills can be taught. Character you either have or don’t have. Bigfoot understood that there are two types of people in the world: those who do what they say they’re going to do — and everyone else.

~~~~~~
Given how his story ended, this was particularly poignant:

That was never my problem. When they’re yanking a fender out of my chest cavity, I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time. My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted and advantages squandered. I’m still here. And I’m surprised by that. Every day.

*Big sigh.*

If you’re into food writing and haven’t yet read this one, check it out.

don’t give up

I consider myself a skeptic and a cynic, and I’m not really proud of either trait. These are the logical outcomes of a logical personality, and I’m not proud of that, either. In fact, there are days that I wish I were not so logical; it’s a burden in a world that lacks common sense! And it can cause me to be cold and clinical when I’d much rather be warm and compassionate. Also, I’m sure it drives some people crazy.

So I was surprised at the the direction my thoughts took when I recently scrolled through my Instagram feed. I follow Jon Gordon, a best-selling author and motivational speaker, and I’ll be honest and say that some of the rah-rah, positive attitude stuff makes me roll my eyes at times – not specific to him, but that genre of posts. (I’m not proud of this, either! I don’t want to be that kind of person!)

Here’s the post that made me think:

dont-give-up

(More total honesty: that word MIRACLE made me think of the Miracle at Jordan Hare. I can’t help it – I’m an Auburn girl.)

My logical self wouldn’t ordinarily find a cynic and a skeptic to be hopeful. But you know what? I am! That’s why I persevere through books I don’t particularly enjoy — I figure there has to be some redemption in there somewhere! Alas, sometimes there is not. It’s why I’ll almost always gut it out and finish every episode of a television series season that has been recommended to me — holding out hope that it’s worth it. It’s why I will rip out a knitting project over and over if I can’t get it right. I’m hopeful that one of these days, I will figure it out. And it’s why I didn’t quit on my marriage or give up on some very important relationships that were really hard once upon a time. I’m not proud of this trait either; it’s just how I’m wired, I guess. And I’m not the One who did the wiring!

Maybe it’s a by-product of that stubborn streak that so frustrated my mother (and shhhh…. came from her! Thanks, Mom!).

So, anyway, that’s a long way of saying that, at fifty years old, I’ve learned something new about myself through glancing at an Instagram post. Life is funny, y’all.

And now I will say to you in the spirit of rah-rah cheerleading and positive thinking (but seriously), if you’re in a hard season, DON’T GIVE UP! Don’t quit right before the lesson is learned or the person changes his heart or the book gets good or the Lord shows His stuff. Pray for perseverance. Wait. (My logical, practical self is compelled to include here the caveat that if you’re in an unsafe place, don’t wait, get out! Otherwise, hang in there. Pray. Obey. Wait. Believe.)

Don’t give up y’all,

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psssst. Anyone here?

This may have been my longest blog hiatus ever! It was completely unintended, and I can offer no explanation. Blogging just didn’t happen. Since my last post, I’ve turned 50 and read some books, among other things like working and sleeping and chores. Paul and I got away to the beach for my birthday, and we’ve visited my peeps in Chattanooga, and they’ve visited us. I’ve done a little knitting, but it’s just somehow remained in the knitting bag during these sauna-like days of summer.

I will try to get back in the blogging habit, but for now, I’ll leave you with a few random thoughts:

~ johnIf you’re looking for a good Bible study (where you actually study your Bible, and not a book that occasionally references a few verses here or there), I highly recommend Kathleen B. Nielson’s studies. I’ve done several. Right now I’m working through John: That You May Believe, and it is soooooo good.

~ I’ve read quite a few books this summer (instead of blogging, right?). Here are a few of my favorites:

The Lake House – Kate Morton (and it’s $2.99 on Kindle right now!)

Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain   The man could write.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption – Bryan Stevenson  I want everyone I know to read this one.

The Paris Wife – Paula McLain  Books about adultery are usually not my favorite, but this one is well-written, and so thought-provoking (and it sent me down a Google rabbit hole of checking out Ernest Hemingway’s tragic family members). There are some lines that will stick with me.

I hope to be back soon. If you’re still here, thanks ever so much for not giving up on me!

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