I saw him. A mug shot clearly visible under the infamous title. I saw it posted near the cash register and immediately thought back to our last conversation.
“I believe people like that don’t deserve to live,” Maggie said. She pulled her arms in sharply and folded them tightly below her chest. She sat up resolutely. Her confidence in the stated opinion solidified as her friend next to her shook her head in agreement.
I looked over at Brother Smith. He stared at the ground, seemingly removed from the conversation.
“Anyone who does something like that to a child, robs them of their innocence…” her jaw clenched, unable to finish the statement.
“I agree, Maggie,” her friend, Ellen, offered. “Ain’t no room in this miserable world for people like that.”
“Sure ain’t,” Maggie muttered. “Darn sure ain’t.”
“So,” I tried to regain control of the conversation. It had been my common experience as a young missionary to try and reestablish the purpose of our current discussion. “You believe in Jesus Christ, correct?”
“Yes,” Maggie replied.
“You believe Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself, so we might repent and be saved from our sins, correct?” I further questioned.
“Um-hmm,” she hummed.
“He will forgive the thief, the adulterer, the liar, and cheater, if they repent?”
“I guess so.”
“No!” her jaw clenched again. “Not them. God wouldn’t save such trash.”
“They can’t repent or He won’t allow them to?” I tried to understand.
“They can try, but how do you repent of something like that?”
I looked to my companion. He shrugged his shoulders. I looked to Brother Smith. He was staring at the same spot on the floor. I focused on Maggie again. She seemed set in her answer.
“We all do things we regret,” I began to offer the best answer I could muster. “Some things are worse than others. God doesn’t flippantly excuse sin, but I believe He forgives the sincerely penitent.”
“Me too,” Maggie responded. “I just don’t think someone can repent of something like that. And, to be blunt, I don’t think you can understand unless you’ve been where I have. You can’t understand until you love a son who also happens to be a constant reminder of the terrible crime that happened to bring him into this world.”
“I’m sorry, Maggie,” I said, unable to think of anything else to say. “I’m sorry for what you went through.”
“We need to go,” Ellen said, looking at her watch. She stood up. “Come on, Maggie.”
Maggie stood and offered her hand to me.
“Sorry we have to go, Elder Mabe,” she said. “We’ll have to pick this up again soon.”
“Will do,” I agreed.
“Thank you for having us over, Brother Smith,” Maggie walked from me to Brother Smith, offering her hand all the same. He looked up from the floor, smiled warmly at her, and clasped her extended hand.
“Anytime, Maggie,” he said.
Ellen and Maggie left and, just like that, the lesson ended on a heavy note.
“What do you say to that?” My companion asked when they were out of earshot.
“Beats me,” I answered. “That’s a tough one.”
“Perhaps there isn’t anything to say,” Brother Smith said softly.
“What do you mean?” I asked Brother Smith.
“When you put some years on your life, you notice a few certainties,” he continued speaking, fixing his eyes on the carpet again. “One of those things is that people will always do terrible things to each other and we are inadequate to fix them. There are things only God can make right. All we can do is repent of whatever sins we commit and offer sympathy and understanding to those who have been wronged.”
The depth of Brother Smith’s comment hit me as I stared at his photo on the “Registered Sex Offenders” list. The photo must have been over ten years old, but it was him. Staring at it, I could not reconcile the man in the picture with the man who regularly sought out opportunities to help his neighbors. They were two completely different people.