In light of the tragic events in Charlottesville, VA (I’m a Virginian, as most know, and I attended the University of Virginia for a year before transferring to the College of William & Mary), this account I relate briefly in my Philosophy of Childing of the remarkable transformation of former KKK member Elwin Wilson seems most apropos right now:
Can pure rottenness ever transmute to pure ripeness?
Elwin Wilson, a former Ku Klux Klan member, was in his physical prime when he was at his most morally bankrupt. In 2009, his health in decline, he saw the error of his ways and asked forgiveness from a person he’d mercilessly beaten during the civil rights unrest a half century earlier. His victim, Congressman John L. Lewis, forgave Wilson without hesitation. Lewis explained that the brand of civil rights activism to which he’d subscribed was based on tenets of nonviolence, love, and forgiveness. If he hadn’t forgiven Wilson, he would have been betraying his own values. Lewis’s moral ripeness had remained in a steady state of “peakness,” making Wilson’s act of contrition all those decades later even fuller.
Rare though such occurrences may be, Wilson’s example shows that how we act in the present can transform our past, and touch future generations. But it also shows that sometimes a human core that has been presumed to be corrupted beyond repair in fact still has dormant goodness that is able to bloom late in life.
Kierkegaard almost gets it right when he opines that “life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backward.” by living life in a forward-looking way, with a vision of who we might still be and what we might still accomplish, we can give new meaning to the past, and in a sense recreate it.