Some years ago I was fortunate enough to go traveling in Australia, it was I suppose the start of my odyssey years, as David Brooks would put it. Having been away for a little over 6 months I decided to return home in time for Christmas, and furthermore to surprise my family and friends by not announcing my return.
It was a little depressing to land ungreeted, struggle with luggage to the train station, transfer trains an hour later, then finally take a cab to the family dwelling, but I did not mind as the thought of the surprise return and the warmth of the welcome would more than make up for it.
I walked up to the front door around 5pm, it was already dark, and rang the doorbell (I had traveled without a door key for fear of losing it). My sister answered with a rather flat 'oh hello' and held the door open for me. My parents, brothers and sisters were sat around the kitchen table, a place was made for me but there were no cries of welcome, no hugs, no popping of corks. I was given a cup of coffee and told the bad news. Ginny our cat of some 13 years, who had outlasted all our other cats by a significant factor - we lived on a busy road that was not conducive to cat longevity - had been a little under the weather so had been taken to the vet by my mother.
As you've probably already guessed the vet diagnosed a terminal illness, and had advised that instead of a long lingering painful death, the kindest thing to do would be to put Ginny to sleep. My mother held Ginny, the vet administered the injection, and Ginny went to sleep in my mother's arms, never to wake again. The only consolation was that Ginny had felt no pain. It was just my misfortune to arrive home less than hour after my mother got back from the vet.
This sad family event, admittedly usually minus the return of the prodigal son, is repeated up and down the land many times a day, week in, week out, year after year. I have yet to hear an argument suggesting this is anything other than painless for the beloved family pet, let alone cruel or unusual. So why is it, that with all the resources available to the Justice system, we are unable to put to sleep those individuals whose lives the courts have deemed forfeit without causing undue pain and suffering?
Maybe it is that for many of us, at least in part, it is not enough for the condemned to die. We actually want them to experience a final terriful pain wracked end; we want for them to appreciate the full magnitude of the community's vengeance, and, if the truth be told and the constitution allowed it, we would welcome the return of burning at the stake in the Town Square.
Strangely, there are also opponents of the death penalty, who also would prefer that executions be carried out as inhumanely as possible as they believe that this helps them in their overall quest to end the death penalty.
If we could only each acknowledge that part within us that seeks vengeance rather than justice, and having acknowledged it curb it, rather than allow politicians and pundits to secretly pander to it. Maybe then we could have a kindly avuncular vet gently administer the courts final verdict, and, with a few sympathetic words, that would be that.