Past Life On Trial
[NOTE: The following story began, as some of my stories sometimes do, with a hypothetical question. Supposing, one day, belief in the validity of past-life regressions and the concept of reincarnation, itself, cease to be minority opinions in our society? If past-life memory were ever able to be verified as fact, what relationship would our world choose to establish between who we are and who we were? Would an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, reborn in our own times, for example, be able to march into a museum to demand the return of the treasures plundered from his tomb? Even more tellingly, what would be the fate of the past-life criminal? Of Jack the Ripper, or even a world leader like Genghis Khan, whose conduct so shocks our modern times?
This is the thought which generated the following story, which takes the powerful and disturbing image of the Nazi soldier - one still very close to home - to test our imagination to the limit, and to launch an exploration into this unknown, yet possibly not so distant, moral terrain. I hope my tale's drive to search for understanding will survive the controversy of its content. - JRS.]
It was time for sentencing. The verdict, rendered several months before, was hardly surprising, in spite of the utterly new ground that had been broken by the trial. But really, it was all quite meaningless, until the judge, also in a novel position, pronounced the defendantís fate. For his discretion in this new terrain was virtually absolute, and anything from freedom to death seemed a possible outcome. "There are no precedents," a court reporter was whispering into some kind of tape recorder just outside the door, glancing in at the buzz of people, the judgeís empty seat, the spectators and familiars: restless, tense, many fidgeting or busy speculating, a few standing out for their inertness, like trees along an avenue, silent in prayer. "And there are no laws on the books which specifically refer to this exact set of circumstances," the reporter continued, speaking into the recorder in the same way that one whispers secrets into the ear of a forbidden lover when one is in a public place. "If anything is certain, at this point, it is that in but a few moments, history will be made."
"Will everyone who has a pass please come in at this time?" asked a guard, his sense of authority tarnished by the pressure of the occasion, which had him somewhat intimidated. He put his hand on the door, and a stream of people who had been standing out in the hallway, including the court reporter, suddenly surged forward, displaying their passes, half filing, half barging into the courtroom. Soon afterwards, the door swung shut, and history hid for a moment from the world which it was about to own.
Inside the room, sitting, now, beside his pale, anxious lawyer, the defendant, head buried in hands, reflected on the madness, the strangeness of his life, perhaps about to come to an end.
"You should really see a psychologist," his wife had told him, he remembered that, how many years ago?, the beginning. The insomnia, the strange nightmares, the distance and wall he had placed around his heart, that was damaging their relationship. Afraid to lose his wife and home, he had agreed, and gone through several years of futile psychotherapy before one day linking up with an unconventional psychologist who had not bailed out when something out of the ordinary came up: shocking images that seemed to come from another life, which suddenly erupted from the midst of a regression aimed at his childhood. "I am dressed in gray, with a German helmet," the defendant had reported from deep in trance. "It is autumn and I am in the woods. They are carpeted with autumn leaves, orange and yellow. Beautiful. The season of the earth dying, giving gold. I am like a poet in the midst of writing a poem, for one transcendental moment, I am carried away by the angel of nature. But then - suddenly - the empty trees begin to rise up in my mind - menacing - like angry giants - angry because they have lost the green crowns they once wore - their bare branches are jealous of me, demand that I be empty , also, lose my green, yield to them, fall in lineÖ The Lieutenant shouts an order, and I am running out of the dream world, alert and intense, like my loaded rifle, branches and bushes are like the wind, blowing past me, without substance, till I am suddenly on the ground, flat on my stomach, my rifle trained on a little house, on the window, while two of my comrades run quickly forward, like they are in a race, to sweep around it."
If only the psychologist had cut it off there, had not been so damned open-minded, and let it go on; if only heíd said, "Go back to your fifth birthday to the toy soldiers you were playing with." But he did not. And the terrible story, pieces of it already known from nightmares, had rolled on, like a horrifying movie, in which he was imprisoned against his will.
"Gypsies!" the Lieutenant had spat, German guns now trained on the men, women and children, ordered out of the two worn-down trucks, trapped in mud on a path behind the house. "Just look at them!"
One of the other men began interrogating them, but would not leave the perfection of his German, which made him feel capable, but which they did not understand. "Where are you going? What are you doing? What village do you come from?" Turning to the Lieutenant, he said, "Brutes. Theyíre up to no good, I can tell."
"Search the trucks!" the Lieutenant ordered. Instantly, he held up his hand, stopping the man who was now a defendant, from joining in the search. He wanted his gun on the civilians.
Were it not for his fear, surely the defendant would have been curious, intrigued by the prisoners, but even though they were unarmed, there was too much tension here, you never knew what could happen, and so, he did not study the faces carefully, he let himself see only their fear and, in cases, resignation, and even anger, burning inside stone. The Lieutenant saw it, too. "Two guns in the truck, under a board," a soldier reported, as another soldier emerged from the house saying, "I got cut on a nail, I hope their generals are as bad as their carpenters."
"Just look at them," the Lieutenant said again, "just look at those faces. How long do you think you could turn your back on them, before theyíd put a knife in it?"
"What do you have these guns for!?" screamed the interrogator, shaking one of the captured guns in the face of the oldest gypsy, appointing him, with his assumption, to be leader of the group. "What the hell do you need guns for? Where are you going with these guns?"
The manís face began to crack, his aura of wisdom seeming to come off like old paint from a weathered house, leaving only a weak, fragile, vulnerable shadow of something that had lived well past its prime. A young gypsy man, protective of the fallen father figure, started to move forward, but a womanís arm shot out, restraining him with a power that made one soldier blurt out, "That bitch must ride on top!"
The soldiers laughed, though the defendant only managed a smile, as his eyes kept scanning the woods around them, until the Lieutenant, sizing the captives up one last time, finally said, "Well, Sergeant, move them over there, and make them get down on their knees, facing away from you; then take them out. We canít be responsible for releasing snipers, or saboteurs. Hot embers ignite whatever they touch," he added, ordering, "Of course, the women and children, too. The women can bear soldiers, the children can become soldiers. Theyíre gypsies, by God, thereís no role for them in the world!" And one more time: "Their eyes! Their eyes! You can see how they hate us. Their fear is only hate waiting to be born! And one day, bullets will come from those eyes, I tell you, to strike down our German brothers. Finish them off, by God, itís on me!"
Somehow, the defendant found himself with the fatal detail, moving the prisoners over to the death spot. He could feel their humanity and vulnerability, as they marched and stumbled forward, flanked by German guns, the same way that a man can feel a womanís body through her dress in the first moments of embracing, feel the warmth, the life, the beating heart of who she is. But he turned it off, before it grew on him, like you turn off desire for a friendís girl. He let it all become a daydream, cold and beyond his reach, let the little children become tiny forest animals, like squirrels, whose killing is a shame, not a sin. Yes, kill them to keep them from ruining the garden. His skin began to grow so thick.
For a moment, however, a feeling of terror broke through his preparation, exploding inside of him, as he suddenly woke up to find them all on their knees, hands resting on top of their heads, the backs lined up in a row, waiting for the impact of the bullets, the moment of the crime, the moment of the souls being lost. "Donít think about it," the Sergeant told the men, softly.
"But - canít we just let them go?" asked someone.
"No going back. Itís his orders. Look. Donít make things shitty for yourself. Just do it."
"Weakling," a more callous soldier snarled at the other.
"Gypsy scum," agreed another, his way of saving himself.
"Donít think!" the Sergeant ordered one more time. "Everyone ready?"
"Ja! Jawohl!" a chorus of affirmations replied, the voices giving courage to each other, the promise of a burden shared, a pact of mutual forgiveness for the rest of time.
"Aim!" Then, almost instantaneously, to cut out any last fears or regrets, he commanded, "Fire!"
Instantly, the guns reacted, erupted in a barrage of huge explosions, the bodies jolted forward onto their faces, screams beginning to rise up from the midst of the chaos, several figures actually making it off their knees, and beginning to run, brought down by the quick reflexes of the well-trained soldiers.
"Get her!" the Sergeant shouted, as a teenager, a girl, fled into the forest.
The defendant, who felt he was being spoken to directly, and another soldier rushed into the woods after her, and finally found her, slashed and cut, her dress torn, trying to thrash through a thick bush filled with thorns. It seemed almost as though she was swimming, against the heavy currents of a river, and sensing her helplessness, she began to weep, and call out desperate entreaties, in her language.
"Pretty bitch," the soldier at the defendantís side said. "I wonder if she looks that hot and flustered when sheís being f_____d?" Grinning, the soldier slung his rifle over his shoulder, and unsheathing a bayonet, he began to work his way through the bush, cursing, "Bitch!" every time a thorn became imbedded in his flesh, as though it were her fault. Exhausted, hopelessly entangled, she collapsed, still held up by the thorns, and finally said something to him, desperately, softly, tears in her eyes, pleading, it seemed. "What did you say?" he asked. "You find German men irresistible?" But just before he reached her a shot rang out, sudden and deafening, the girlís sight leapt out of her eyes, skyward, and she slumped backward and down, like a marionette whose strings have just been cut.
"You bastard!" the soldier yelled, turning back to the defendant. "You damned, son-of-a-bitch bastard! You killed her!"
The defendant, his eyes as vacant, now, as the girlís, only turned away, and drifted back towards the others, empty as a ghost who you could pass your hand through without realizing he was there.
"The little boyís still alive," he heard someone saying from the other side of some trees. "By God, and I already went over them all."
A shot rang out - a pistol, it sounded like, this time - and the defendant could hear the Lieutenantís voice saying, "Well, itís good we got him now. If he was this hard to kill as a kid, imagine what it would be like to kill him if we let him grow up. - You finished her?" the Lieutenant asked, as the defendant emerged back into their midst.
"Sheís finished," he replied mechanically, hardly hearing himself. Moments later, he had the vague feeling of a hand coming down upon his shoulder, resting there for a moment, like a bird on a branch, and he heard the Sergeant saying, "Itís war. Them or us. Orders. Donít worry, itís not you. We all have to do this," he insisted, after a long moment of impenetrable silence: "stop being human for a little while, until the war is over. Because, of course, that is the secret about war. Nothing is as deadly, here, as a human being. Not a jammed gun, not a tank thatís out of gas, not a plane thatís grounded because of the weather. A human being." One more time, he patted the defendant on the back. "Evolution in reverse. From men, into beasts. But donít worry. Itís only for a little while. [Was he speaking to the defendant or himself?] Sooner or later, life will restore you. Back home, with a good woman, some beer, who you were here will be covered over. Covered over by life. Just like they throw dirt over a coffin, it will be covered over."
But, sad to say, the Sergeantís prophecy had never come true. The war had gone on, and there had been more killings. Mostly in combat. Enemy soldiers on the Eastern Front, fair game, though sometimes you could not escape from the fear that a Soviet uniform had somehow gotten onto the wrong person, and you had killed someone meant to live, someone too well-loved to die. Once, it was a group of enemy prisoners, soldiers who they had no time to slow down for, being needed at a road where enemy infantry was said to be threatening a battery of 88mms., set up to hold off an expected appearance of enemy armor. Somehow, the killing of the captured soldiers did not even seem offensive. Perhaps the killing of the gypsies had shorted out enough of the soulís wires to disconnect it from its actions, and render these fresh killings perfectly ordinary. Like putting out a finished cigarette, crushing it down into an ashtray.
And then, finally, the soldierís inevitable yet still slightly unexpected end. A cold, hungry day, a pale dawn with no life in the sky, nothing to hold the shell up any longer; reports of a German unit on their flank under fire; moving forward using a poor map, a map missing important elements of the terrain: reality now, no longer the invincible Reich, the days of the Superman. And then, suddenly, the flash all around him, as though he could suddenly see a halo he had never known he had, and the strange thud against his leg, as he flew high into the air, feeling mainly a kind of sickness in his stomach and numbness and acute uncertainty; momentarily graceful, a ballet dancer, without a leg, before he was only a stunned corpse in a German uniform, still somehow alive, lying on the ground, with blood all over.
"Canít wait," the commander said, grimly.
A war friend helped him, not wanting to let go, while a third face appeared high above, looking down at him tenderly, like a face in the moon. "No," the face said, at last, gently. "No", walking away. It was the doctor. Somehow the defendant was reminded of the day when his mother had left him, crying, alone at school, saying, "You must learn to be with the other boys. It is time to grow up, to leave home."
"Mines!" somebody was warning the rest of the defendantís column.
The defendant looked up, still held by his friend, feeling like Jesusí beautiful limp corpse in the loving arms of the grieving, infinitely tender Mary. And they were at that moment, he realized, far greater together than Michelangeloís "Pieta", because this art was made of their flesh and blood and precious lost illusions and death, and would not endure or ever be known. "God bless you, brother," he remembered his friend saying. "Youíll be going to a better world than this one, I can assure you."
The defendant remembered trying to speak, and say something back, but his lips only quivered, and then he felt himself gently being put down, and left behind, and the darkness became so deep and calm until a light began to grow in the middle of it, and a feeling of even greater peace began to fill him; until he saw them - the gypsy girlís vacant eyes - and woke up screaming.
"You have just had a past-life regression," he remembered the psychologist telling him, as he sat up in a sweat, adding, "I cannot say if the events you have just recalled actually happened or not, but I can work through this material with you, just the same as if it were a dream, to see if it will help us to shed any light on your current problem."
Somewhat surprised - deeply disturbed, without knowing why, if it was just a dream - most definitely confused - the defendant had agreed, and underwent further analysis of the past-life material. In this capacity, the psychologist was excellent, and the defendant came to grips with a deep sense of guilt imbedded in his soul, very alive and powerful, which seemed to sabotage him at every turn, cheating him out of successes which he secretly felt he did not deserve, and destroying many possibilities for happiness, which he somehow felt he had denied to others and must, therefore, deny to himself. They also attacked the wall of numbness with which he had enclosed himself, the distance from others, the withdrawal from deep feelings and close ties. "God, it hurts too much," he cried out one day; "to let myself love - really love - means that I must love those who I destroyed! I cannot walk over that fire!"
Some progress was made, but it was not enough. The psychologist eventually sought to connect the past-life images with events in the defendantís childhood, to interpret it all as an encoded fantasy related to the death of the defendantís infant sister, which he felt he had somehow willed, and to a sense of emotional abandonment by his family. According to this psychologistís interpretation, the gypsy girl who he killed represented his deceased sister, while his family was represented by the German army - cold, goal-oriented, expecting compliance, leaving him behind whenever he was hurt. It seemed to make sense and to protect him at the same time; but the defendantís wife, far more mystical than he, pushed him to pursue the esoteric path further, not to so easily accept the reattachment of his past-life vision to the prosaic issues of his contemporary existence. She was open-minded, and reasoned that if his recovery was still very incomplete, it was because he must deal with his vision at face-value, as a reality and not a fantasy, and make appropriate spiritual compensations. This led to the defendant becoming involved with a spiritual counselor and hypnotist, and with a past-life support group, and moving from a metaphorical to a literal, and from a scientific to an occult interpretation of his experience.
And that is how his great downfall, his great catastrophe, had developed! A few more memories - the names of two roads near the place where the killing had take place; the name of a German soldier and the town where he was born. Some research. And some astonishing verifications, beginning to add credibility, and even a sense of panic, to his discoveries. But still, that was nothing! All of this had to come at a time when brain-imaging technology was making huge advances, first with the development of a brain scan which could differentiate between lies and truth by mapping out energy outputs in certain areas of the brain (a more intense energy output indicated a lie, which requires greater effort to produce than the truth). This new technology rapidly began to supplant the outdated and frequently inaccurate technology of the conventional lie-detector, and in a historic Supreme Court ruling, was deemed accurate enough to be utilized in the courtroom as a means of examining the reliability of witnesses and more carefully scrutinizing their testimony.
From this achievement, a variation was soon developed: a new brain scan said to be capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality. The image-mapping and interpretation required to make this advanced distinction was far more sophisticated than that utilized to tell lies apart from truths, especially in certain cases; and yet, in several batteries of convincing tests, the technology asserted its reliability, being able to produce different energy readings for story-writing and for fact-recording, for daydreaming and for remembering, for the remembering of oneís previous fantasies and for the remembering of real events, even for hallucinations (believed real by the subject) and for perceptions linked to real phenomena (as picked up by the eye, the ear, and other sensory channels connected to the external world).
The results were strongly challenged, and even discredited for a time, when doubters used the technology to "prove" the existence of past lives, ghosts, and UFOs, finding some witnesses and experiencers of "impossible" paranormal phenomena who still passed the technologyís criteria for determining that reality, rather than fantasy, had been involved. But the skepticsí experiments backfired. Rather than discrediting the new technology by demonstrating how it was capable of producing absurd results, they actually opened the door for a new scientific validation of paranormal phenomena, and inadvertently helped to usher in a new explosion of spirituality in the West - or, more precisely stated, an embrace of the occult. Further tests reinforced the accuracy of the technology. And helped win grant money for the "Past Life Project", which - by screening thousands of individuals who claimed to have had past-life memories, and then selecting those whose memories had imaged out as real, and whose memories also offered the greatest possibility of allowing fruitful follow-up investigations - finally began to build a convincing dossier on reincarnation. In this process, the cases of Maria Alba and J. Lou Browne, both aided by the latest techniques in sustained hypnosis, were pivotal. Maria Alba was able to use memories of a past life as a scribe on ancient Crete to decipher the mysteries of Minoan Linear A, an unknown form of writing which had baffled archaeologists, linguists, and even military code-breakers for well over a century. While J. Lou Browne was able to lead archaeologists to an unopened Egyptian tomb which he had built for his past-life wife, having described what they would find within the tomb before they entered.
Given these mind-boggling developments, a kind of intense intellectual and spiritual ferment, one half confusion and fear, one half excitement and hope, had set in. Some of the mainstream religions had counterattacked, seeking to squash the new technology and its discoveries in just the same way that they had once tried to put the sun back in orbit around the earth; while other challenged faiths sought to incorporate the new esoteric findings into their own doctrine as the surest way to guarantee their own survival. In this way, reincarnation and UFOs ceased to be fringe beliefs, but rather, began to work their way more and more into the spiritual mainstream of the West, albeit with some of their possible meanings and implications stolen or quarantined. While materialist forces sought to limit the dangers of the new spiritual explosion by commodifying it as much as possible, creating all sorts of products and services to take advantage of the new awakening and to keep it firmly in the marketplace.
Naturally, it was with great interest that the defendant had watched all of these developments unfold: at first, with excitement and even happiness, as a form of vindication. For before this, he had felt somewhat alone and on the fringe, connected to other "believers", it is true, but unable to sometimes avoid feeling very foolish, in spite of it, and certainly confused, like a deviant "in the closet." Now, at last, he felt some breathing room, and more of a right to respect his mind.
On the other hand, there was also deep pain connected with the new developments, for it meant that the terrible, crime-filled past life which tormented him was not as likely to be an illusion, as he sometimes hoped whenever its weight grew on him, broke through the distractions of his daily life, and suddenly seemed too much to bear. And it seemed an awful spiritual journey, an unbelievable spiritual work, was thrust upon him, something beyond his means, for what can you do to bring back lives you have stolen? "No, they didnít die," he told himself. "I couldnít kill them, in the end!" Yes, the up-side of reincarnation; and he would feel joy, resurrection for a transitory moment. Before a terrible sorrow would return to overcome him, the sorrow of a man who has raped his own daughter, the girl living on, yet with the terrible sin and betrayal of her father buried deep inside her like a knife. "God - help me! What can I do," he wept, "if this is all real?!"
But this was not the extent of the new developmentsí impact upon his life. A prominent national court case, in which a serial killer was not exposed to the police by a psychotherapist, who became aware of his clientís crimes during the course of their sessions, resulted in the criminal conviction of the therapist. For his client, a psychopathic yet outwardly respectable and even charming member of the upper class, went on to take the life of one more victim - a victim who need not have died - before the psychologist finally abandoned the code of confidentiality so important to his profession, recognized the limits of his ability to treat the patient, and went to the police. As a result of this landmark case, and its subsequent codification in the production of new state laws, psychotherapists became responsible for reporting any criminal activities of their clients to appropriate law-enforcement authorities. And that is how the past-life crimes of the defendant ended up being reported to the police.
At first, of course, no one knew what to do. The media, which somehow got hold of a police report - for the defendant was questioned by a detective, who felt silly yet compelled to cover his a__ - protecting himself, just in case - found the concept engaging , and exciting - newsworthy in a futuristic kind of way, like the subject of human cloning. "If past lives are real - as advanced brain scanning and the work of the Past Lives Project have shown us - should individuals be subject to prosecution for crimes they committed in other lives?" Damned meddling journalist! One half Hawthorne, one half Torquemada!
A group dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust, fighting Holocaust deniers, and combating the threat of neo-Nazism, picked up on the theme. "Here is a man who may have served as a member of the Nazi war machine, and killed innocent civilians, as well as violated the Geneva Convention concerning the legal and acceptable treatment of prisoners of war. War crimes by any standard, for which he was never tried and never punished." Relentless bastards!, the defendant gasped. Now that Mengele washed up on a beach, they have to go after reincarnated Nazis! But I wasnít even a Nazi, for Godís sakes, I was just a poor, goddamned German footsoldier, who they put into a uniform, handed a gun, and sent out to kill or be killed. And suddenly, he was in trouble, his home surrounded by reporters, his phone ringing all the time, the members of some anti-Nazi group picketing around his house, tormenting him like Harpies, not allowing him to go out, to sleep, to play with his children, demanding that he be put on trial. "Why donít you take some time off?" his boss told him.
At last, a group of descendants of victims of Nazi genocide, tenacious and still-wounded - but, he thought, by something which he had very little to do with - succeeded in winning the support of an international war crimes committee, and the defendantís national government, which, together, compelled the defendant to be subjected to several days of intense questioning, and related investigations, while under the scrutiny of the latest scanning technology. It was determined, when everything was done, that there was a nearly 100% chance that the defendantís past-life memories were, indeed, real, meaning that he was now subject to be put on trial for crimes he had committed in a previous life. Once a legal protest was swept aside, claiming that the 5th Amendment had been violated, in his case, there was no stopping the trial - madness only yesterday, suddenly mainstream, in the very center of society, today.
"All rise," the guard said, as a back door opened, and the solemn, black-robed judge entered, the weight of history upon his shoulders, life and death in his hands. The defendant felt his knees weak, and somehow believed the entire court could tell, could sense his fear, his guilt-ridden terror, his near-paralysis that seemed to say, "Look at me, Iím afraid, proof of my sins." And he wondered if the gypsies had felt this way on that day, long ago, when he had turned off his heart and let himself become a machine, operated by someone else.
"Be seated," said the judge.
Furtively, the defendant looked about, having practically fallen back into his seat, but no one seemed to notice, all eyes were on the judge. The defendant, heart pounding, turned back to face the judge: enigmatic, all-powerful, otherworldly in his robes, like some ancient God of the Dead holding the balance of souls, ready to weigh the heavy, dark heart of a killer against the white feather of truth, pure and unstained, like the first day of promise of any life. Discreetly, yet intently, the defendant studied the judgeís face, searching for a clue to his destiny, which must already be decided, but the judgeís face was like a locked tomb, secretive, frightening for its lack of expression. At last, clearing his throat, and getting by some kind of expected greeting, stern and formal, even intimidating, he began to speak. At first, the defendant hung upon his every word. "ÖThe jury having found the defendant guilty in a fair and impartial trial, the duty now falls upon me of formulating a sentence properly corresponding to the gravity and circumstances of the crimeÖ Being without precedent, yet likely to set a precedent, the responsibility attendant upon my reflections has been especially imposingÖ In part, I have attempted to use cases of a related nature, pertinent to the perpetration of war crimes, pertinent to arguments concerning the acts of soldiers in times of war, pertinent to the demands we make upon the human conscience at such times, and the extent of the mitigation which we consider to derive from the position of the guilty party in a military hierarchy based upon obedience to superiors and their ordersÖ I have also been forced to contemplate, on a philosophical and deeply personal level, the meaning of the new circumstances in which we find ourselves, and the impact of the new dilemmas with which we are, therefore, confrontedÖ"
Exhausted, the defendant slumped backwards (realizing, only at that moment, that he had been sitting on the edge of his chair, nearly at the point of falling off). The judge was obviously in the midst of trying to leave his mark on history, and for a moment, the defendantís mind drifted back to the trial, to the epic trial, a circus for some who fed on the drama of real people, who were not themselves, walking the tightrope between life and death. Not thinking, only drifting, the defendant remembered the prosecutors: the arrogant demagogue, his questions and tone of voice filled with insults, who had a way of making you hate yourself as much as you hated him; and the angry young Jewish woman who had lost an aged relative to the Holocaust, and outraged at that tragedy which she had met so obliquely, determined to find a way to fight back, to do her part, even though she had arrived too late. He remembered his own lawyer, barely noticeable beside the prosecutorsí skill and intensity. And the witnesses: scholars and rememberers of the Holocaust who believed he must pay, that the crimes committed by the German army and by the SS during WW II were crimes that could not be adequately paid for in a single lifetime. Other members of the Jewish community, who argued that punishment, beyond the life in which the crime was committed, ought to be left in Godís hands, including a Hasidic rabbi, who said, "The precedent of finding this man guilty is far more dangerous than he, himself, is. The chasm of death is sacred. Who knows how a man may change by crossing over it. Who knows if by condemning a man who was guilty in a past life, we might not be condemning a man who is innocent, in this one. Let us not pretend to have Godís wisdom, and vision of the whole," the rabbi urged, while some spectators, heckling him, had to be removed from the court. Later, several gypsies appeared on the witness stand, as well, who described the genocide of their people during the Nazi era: "We were not as many as the Jews, yet hated just as much." And for a moment a girl who claimed to be the reincarnation of one of the defendantís gypsy victims came close to appearing in the courtroom, until her brain scans came back, and her memories of being in the massacre were deemed a fantasy (what a disappointment for the press!) Also present were some representatives of human rights organizations, who described the importance of adherence to the rules of war, and the correct treatment of POWs. And they brought up the precedent of the Malmedy massacre, in which the violation of those rules by Nazi forces during the Battle of the Bulge, had resulted in convictions and death sentences. Against the claim that the defendant had only been following orders, the lead prosecutor argued that the Nuremberg Trials, at the end of WW II, had long ago shattered the viability of that excuse, and argued, besides, that the defendant did not display adequate resistance to the command to kill the gypsies. "He did not protest, or in any way show his objection to the massacre before and as it was taking place."
"Not true!" the defendant had shouted, rising up out of his chair, wild tears in his eyes. "You donít know what I went through! You donít know what it was like! You talk so pompously and morally now, but if you were there, in my shoes, I know you would have suffered less than I! Hypocrite! You, who enjoy killing so much with words, what would you have done with a gun in your hands, in a dark forest!?" At that point, the defendant had had to be restrained, and dragged out of the courtroom - at the breaking point, feeling so contemptible, and alone, not even able to count on the support of his wife any longer, ever since a terrible fight heíd had with her, blaming her for setting him on this awful path, for first involving him in this deadly mess of past-life regressions. "Youíve ruined me!" he told her. "Why couldnít you have just left me the way I was - an unhappy, distant man, instead of a criminal! A man with nightmares, not a man on trial for his life!" Now he was alone, feeling utterly abandoned, despised, surrounded by the world.
Worse yet, though, was the way the whole trial interfered with his own struggle to come to grips with the tragedy of his fateful past life. How long it had tormented him! How desperately he had wanted to rectify things. To find peace, forgiveness; to somehow bring the ones he had killed back to life; to heal them, give them something greater than that which he had taken away from them; to find a way of cleaning his soul, of throwing off the dark weight from his shoulders, of becoming who he wanted to be, Godís child reborn, naked and new. But now, this trial. And suddenly anger and defensiveness, reactions against the inquisition, changing his battle for rebirth into a battle for survival, transforming his search for purification into a search for an excuse, converting his surrender to the truth of his sin into a desperate effort to cover it back up. He felt the trial was sabotaging his healing, stealing his redemption, and he felt a terrible fear that he would die soon with a heart still tangled up and lost, not free and clear, like a house that has been cleaned. "O God, why canít they leave this between You and me?" he wept. "Why did they have to become involved?"
"Nonetheless, tradition and duty bind me to make a judgment - to step first in this untrodden snow," the judge was saying.
Surprised, released from his trance, the defendant looked up to see the judge still speaking, the courtroom still silent, still waiting.
"When all is said and done," continued the judge, history wrapped around him, "the essence of my decision must go beyond the precedents set in WW II, and during our own times regarding the sentencing of war criminals, and base itself upon the nature of the reality which we have now decided to work with.
"If it is true, as society has determined, that reincarnation is a real dynamic of our universe, and that past lives are, likewise, a reality, then it must also be true that we live in a spiritual universe, one which vastly exceeds the dimensions and perceptions of our worldly life, fixed within our own generations. Can we accept the validity of past lives in a court, I wonder, without also accepting the validity of the spiritual context in which they take place, and the spiritual mechanisms which underlie and promote their existence?
"To me, it seems that we cannot. To me it seems that we cannot accept manifestations of a spiritual reality - such as reincarnation - without accepting the fact that there also must be principles underlying this spiritual reality. Which ought, I believe, to be spiritual principles. Commonly held to be included among such principles, and most prominent among them, is the principle that positive actions must one day bring positive consequences, while negative actions must one day be attended by negative consequences. Whether this principle is embodied by the Buddhist concept of karma, or the Christian concept of Heaven and Hell, it is common, in some form or other, to all of the major spiritual belief systems of which I am aware."
Nervously, for some reason excitedly, but not wanting to misinterpret what was happening, not wanting false hope, born of desperation, to set him up for an even bigger fall, the defendant looked around the courtroom, for clues as to what was taking place. Most faces he saw were merely impatient or confused, or tense with uncertainty. Looking to the prosecutorís, he wondered if his was worried, or only exasperated by the judgeís intricacy, and disregard for time. What is all this leading to? the defendant wondered. A part of him wished the judge to dispense with all of this philosophy and get right to the point, to put an end to this unbearable suspense; while another part of him was well-satisfied with the judge's meandering meditations, just like a prisoner on the way to the guillotine might be grateful for the twists and turns in the streets that kept him from arriving too quickly to his final moment of horror.
"Given this new spiritual reality which science has inadvertently thrust back into the heart of our civil life," the judge continued, "we must ask ourselves, ĎHow much of this spiritual reality do we see? How much of it do we know?í We see a migrating bird come down from the sky for a moment and rest on our property for a day. Then, next day, he rises early and spreads his wings and is off again. From where, we do not know. To where, we do not know. Can we judge him, except for the time he has spent on our property?
"Of course, some will say that we do know where the defendant has come from, we do know what he did. But what we actually know is what he did on one day of his journey, on one piece of property, that was not our own. We do not know what happened, in the spiritual sense, on his flight from there to here. We do not know how much of his crime was paid for by his sense of guilt and torment, and by his lonely, painful death. We do not know if he met any of his victims, after death, in the world beyond ours, and what may have transpired there; or if he has yet to meet them here, on our earth and in this time, perhaps to help them in some way, to restore some measure of the happiness he stole from them, knowing or without knowing who they are. Perhaps he is meant to save a life, or more than one life, in our own generation, driven by the pain of what he did in another, to new heights of courage and compassion. Or perhaps, between his death as a German soldier, so many years ago, and the life he is living now, he lived another life, erasing his debt, or more likely some part of it, through positive actions, or perhaps through suffering. What if, in that life, he was born blind, deaf, crippled, and died as a child? ĎKarmic justice.í Would we regard him as still in need of punishment - of our justice - today? Wouldnít we, then, be the guilty ones, for punishing him without the cause of a new crime, after he had already served time for the one he had committed?
"On our earthly plane, in our own times, of course, we act to punish criminals for their crimes. This practice acts as a visible deterrent, as a protective mechanism for society, and may perhaps also fulfill some part of Godís plan, though we cannot be sure. Certainly, it occurs before the soul disappears beyond our sight, into the realm of divine invisibility, where Godís decisions and actions can only be guessedÖ It is my contention that we can only punish what we can see, and that although we can now see past lives, and the crimes of past lives, we cannot see what happens between lives, between God, criminal, and victim; just as there are many other facets of the spiritual journey that we cannot know. It is my contention that we lack Godís knowledge of the soulís balance sheet, and therefore have no right to add new payments to that sheet, after a life is complete, but rather, ought to limit our application of justice to the worldly arena which matches our own limited senses and perceptions, and leave the broader deeper, more terrible work of judgment and justice to the hand of Almighty God.
"And so I say, let us not keep beating a soul that has fallen, that is on its knees, through eternity, but rather, give it a chance to rise up and be redeemed. Let us let each day of birth be new, condemn no child that is born to be what it was. Does this not fit our ancient values of mercy and charity - and also, our cherished belief in the power of love, education, and opportunity to bring out the God-given potential for goodness that resides, just as surely as the capacity for evil, deep within every soul?
"Let not our desire for justice," he pressed, "become so extreme as to turn the brilliant opportunity of self-discovery and growth which this new age has provided to us, into a source of danger, shutting down the search for the truths that could save us, because they could also hang us. Let us not reward those who do not seek to know themselves, and therefore never risk uncovering the secret darknesses of their past - which ignorance cannot erase, only conceal - while punishing those who seek the greatest tool for growth, healing, and transformation that exists: self-knowledge. Did not Socrates once say, ĎThe life not examined is not worth livingí? What little will be left of life, I wonder, if we, with our misapplied zeal for justice, end up creating a world in which it is only safe to live a life which is not worth living?! Let us not kill the light that comes out of knowing the darkness," he insisted. "Let us draw the firm, straight line of our jurisdiction over men, up to the point where the man of flesh and blood dies and departs from our midst, and let his death become a permanent sanctuary from our wrath and fear, let all pursuit of man by man be ended there."
As the courtroom stirred, desperate to speak, to protest, to applaud or object, to talk it over - to rise up against the silence of historyís huge weight borne upon its shoulders - the judge said: "For this reason, I hereby sentence the guilty party to listen, and take to heart, the following admonition: ĎGo, and sin no more!í"
And before anyone could say a word, the judge was rising and leaving, and the defendant, on his feet, suddenly sank back down weeping and praying, and collapsing, saying, "Thank you, God, thank you! Thank you for giving me a chance to make up for what I did. For letting me pay of my own free will, because I want to! Please help them, and please help me to help them! And please give me the strength to die before I ever do something like that again! To say no, and join the victims, to be buried with them instead of burying them. To die, as victims and killers alike must die, with my soul intact."
And for some reason congratulating his lawyer, who had quite accidentally won the case - maybe congratulating him because he had done his best, which is all anyone can do - the defendant headed towards the courtroom door, away from his trial by others, and back towards his trial by himself; back towards the possibility of redemption and liberation, on the other side of miles of pain, still to be crossed. No, it was not justice for the gypsies, but a way of freeing him to do the work that would make him incapable of ever killing them again. Work far more effective than any hangmanís rope. "Thank God!" he wept again. "Thank God!"
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