It's not difficult to draw parallels between the death of Matthew Shepard and the death of Jesus Christ. Both were persecuted and both were martyred. At one point in The Laramie Project, someone uses the word "crucifixion" to describe Matthew's being tied to a fence, and Stephen Mead Johnson, describing the site, says, "It is so stark and empty and you can't help but think of Matthew there for eighteen hours in nearly freezing temperatures, with that view up there isolated, and the 'God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' comes to mind." Now, I do not mean to equate Matthew Shepard with Jesus, nor do I wish to elevate him to Jesus' level. And yet, I can't help but think of when Jesus says (in the gospel of Matthew, interestingly enough), that whatever you do for--or, in this case, to--the least of his brothers, you do to him.
As I said the Hail Marys, I thought of Jesus' mother, and how she must have suffered watching her son having die such a painful and humiliating death. And I also thought of Matthew Shepard's mother Judy, who was at least spared the sight of seeing her son tied to a fence, but how she must have suffered standing beside her son's hospital bed and looking down at him when he'd been beaten almost beyond recognition. As I was contemplating the crucifixion of Jesus, before I said the Our Father, I reread the portion of Dennis Shepard's statement to the court at Aaron McKinney's trial that's included in The Laramie Project. Dennis and Judy Shepard refused to seek the death penalty for Aaron McKinney; rather, they decided "To show mercy to one who refused to show any mercy." In other words, they didn't demand an eye for an eye, but chose instead to turn the other cheek.
Earlier in his statement Dennis Shepard says, "Matt's beating, hospitalization and funeral focuses worldwide attention on hate. Good is coming out of evil. People have said enough is enough." Through the work of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Judy and Dennis Shepard have continued to bring good out of the evil of their son's death by continuing to focus attention on hate, and to fight it with love, which is the only way to defeat hate, though the world is slow to realize it or to really believe it. Judy Shepard sent out a heartbreaking mailing this week entitled "Ten Years: No Progress," in which she talks about being discouraged by an angry letter to the editor in response to reports about events commemorating Matthew's death. She is disheartened by the continuing prevalence of such attitudes, "the magnitude with which some people hate," as Rulon Stacey puts it in The Laramie Project. It reminds her of how much work remains to be done in focusing attention on hate, in helping us all to realize that just because Matthew wasn't our son or brother or friend, he could have been, and the attitudes, the "seeds of violence" that blossomed that night ten years ago and ended in the fruition of Matthew's death, those attitudes affect us all; those "seeds of violence" grow up to be weeds, and sometimes they literally choke out our life, as they did Matthew, or sometimes they figurative choke out our souls, and destroy the goodness and compassion and mercy that should be there.
I said at the beginning of this entry that Matthew's death has had a significant impact on my life. He continues to inspire me to work for good and love and to strive for self-actualization. And so I say, with a grateful and humble heart, in the words of Harry Woods in The Laramie Project, "Thank you, Matthew."