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Profiles in Courage & Love

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 03, 2010

One will never know what transpired between Sarbrina Lall-Mitchell and her murderer. Sometimes love relations go awry with devastating consequences. No one has ever explained fully why feelings that seem to so wonderfully new when love first dawns turns so completely into its opposite when loves dies and the deadly serpent of jealousy entangles the human breast.

Sometimes out of the tragedy that this bundle of misplaced emotions engenders a more salvific and ennobling love arises from the simple act of wishing to protect the beloved. Sometimes it finds its recrudescence in the simple words: "I forgive" or "Father forgive them; for they know not what they do."

Seth Lalla, Sabrina's son, is only eleven, the age when I lost my father. Imagine the courage he displayed when those who were supposed to protect his mother ran away and left him with the inevitably: how do I protect my mom when a mass of blind fury is trying to deprive my mom of the most precious commodity: life itself.

Imagine Seth's helplessness. Even as the lone guard ran away to save his life, in his weakness and innocence, Seth called upon his inner reserves to try to save his mother: "I saw him pull out a knife from his pocket. I wanted to save mummy so bad but he began to stab her. And I tried pulling him off her but he just continued stabbing. I tried to tell him if mummy's dead who would look after us and he stopped and watched me but mummy was already on the floor and covered in a pool of blood and my school clothes were covered with blood."

Pastor Dennis Lalla, described his daughter's relationship with her killer as "eleven years of hell." As a father he was protective. As a man he knew abuse when he saw it. At 65, he knew the relationship was not working in his daughter's favor but understood why, in the name of false, unrequited love, she stuck around hoping for the best.

"Leave him. Go to America. Start a new life," he urged her but she was bound, even unto death, to an emotion that betrayed her. She could not possibly have known about her lover's murderous intent or that his pretended tenderness was an act. He couldn't know "he bided his time" as he claimed he loved her.

Her killer may have believed that he "loved" or, better still, "desired" her. But love and desire are not necessarily the same thing. Love involves a heightened concerned for another human being; that if I care for you sufficiently I will not want any harm to attend you to do even though I suffer negative consequences in the process.

Sabrina's killer was not really in love with her. He may have desired her or wished to control her life. He may have wished to possess her in much the same way a man or woman possesses or owns a house or a car. These are inanimate objects that have no way of reciprocating kindness. Possession has little to do with love and its exalted passion.

James Henry Leigh Hunt was a central figure in the English Romantic Movement at the beginning of the nineteenth century. One of his poems, "The Glove and the Lions," was anthologized in one of the West Indian Readers that we used in our primary schools. It tells of the story of a woman who pretended to love a man and who, as a manifestation of that love, called upon him to do extravagant things to prove it.

One day King Frances and several friends were at court watching the lions, with horrid laughing jaws, tear up one another up in the arena below. Their passions-that is, to the degree that animals have passions-were vicious, brutal and deadly. As the king and his party looked at the lions fight, there was a strange commingling of "valour and love, a king above, and the royal beasts below." Taking savage delight in the lions' brutality, the king exclaimed: "Faith, gentlemen, we're better here than there."

Amidst the revelry Count de Lorge, a noble, sat with his lady, "a beauteous lively dame/With smiling lips and sharp bright eyes." They had come to enjoy the royal sport. And then it happened. Before anyone could think about it, she dropped her glove into the ring, looked at him and smiled. She thought. In his nobility, he would do anything to prove his love for me.

He had to prove his manhood or so she thought: "His leap was quick, return was quick, he had regained his place./ Then threw the glove, but not with love, right in the lady's face./ 'By God!," said Francis, 'rightly done! And he rose from where he sat:/'No love,' quoth he, 'but vanity, sets love a task like that.'"

Vanity is defined as having excessive pride in one's abilities or one's attractiveness. Sometimes we call it conceitedness. No matter how we slice it, vanity resides in the belief that somehow the world revolves and sets around you. Every one must cater to your needs. Solomon counseled: "Vanity of vanities. All is vanity." This is why the alleged killer saw in Sabrina nothing other than a defiant object who had refused to bend to his will. How could she reject his irresistible maleness and attractiveness?

Love presumes a rejection of ego and false pride. Whatever other ingredients it may have, it must involve a deep and heighten concerned for the beloved which is why Jesus Christ, in his unbounded love, advised: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down [or sacrifice] his life for his friends."

This is why Pastor Lalla, a great man, reflected the embodiment of salvific love when he said of his daughter's killer, "I want to talk to him and tell him that I forgive him and that I am praying that he will find God."

We mistake vanity for love. Sometimes we confuse self-indulgence with generosity. Much too often we confuse the dictates of our hearts with misguided inflexibility of our minds. There is always room for all of these emotions and rationalizations. The trick is to apply the appropriate emotion; at the appropriate time and in the appropriate place. The inability to discern the difference leads to devastating consequences.

May God always give us the wisdom to discern the difference?

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