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Clifford Baxter, R.I.P.

by Tom Graffagnino

How eagerly we crowed our self-righteous disapproval of those wicked Enron moguls. How stridently we called for their heads upon a platter. How easily we angrily pointed fingers and picked up stones as we circled round our too-well-compensated prey and called for their collective blood. And so now we have our first executive trophy-head shot between the eyes; and suddenly the enthusiastic disdain that we once felt and proudly proclaimed has waned. Our fervent, white-hot zeal for justice now suddenly feels not-so-nice. The blood we lusted for in the abstract is abstract no longer, and we shrink back a bit.

I wonder why that is?

Could it be that deep down inside we know that Mr. Baxter's crime is not so very far beneath the skin-deep veneer of our own moral defenses and shortcomings? Could it be that we begin to recognize the uncomfortable truth that Mr. Baxter's weaknesses and fears and doubts and foibles are also very much our own? The raw confrontation of suicide somehow casts it all in a different light. Somehow that light exposes more about our own condition than we might otherwise care to admit, and we take a moment to step back and reassess .

Would we have done differently than Mr. Baxter had we been playing in the same high-roller game where money flowed like water and opulence caressed the flesh? Would we have resisted the seductive lure to feather the nest and feather the nest and feather the nest some more? Would we have been able to gain the needed traction of virtue on the dangerously steep and rocky slope of avarice and temptation? Could we have held our own and stemmed the persistent rising tide of lust and covetous desire had we been placed in a similar position of such bounteous and lofty "fortune"?

Who knows?

But I know, for now at least, there is a tempered pause in the din and clamor for Enron heads. Suicide always invites such introspective pause. It encourages,... at least for a moment...., a personal, existential inventory and accounting.

Soon enough, I'm sure we will all be cackling once again for justice, pay back and retribution from our catbird seats of proud, self-righteous innocence while still deep inside we recognize more of Mr. Baxter there than we would ever wish to publicly disclose.

The tragic fact and finality of suicide born of hopeless despair drives that stake of recognition deep into our heart with brutal poignancy as we realize that surely this ought not to have ended quite this way. We circled around our pampered Enron prey, sneering and accusing.... demanding the quick, steel hand of justice. But now that we have our first head upon a platter....we glance around somewhat more sheepishly and recognize some rather lusty impure motives of our own. And so, for a brief time, anyway, like the teachers of the Law and Pharisees before us, the stones drop from our clinched fists and we, too, walk away.

The tragedy of suicide reminds us that justice not tempered with mercy is a one-way street of self-incrimination that exposes our own underbelly of complicitous guilt. May we constantly thank God that we have been treated so much more graciously than we have treated our fellow man, and so much more graciously, indeed, than we deserve. For in God's Providential will, we are offered Grace and Forgiveness, Justice and Mercy, Hope and Redemption through the miracle of Repentance and Faith in the Promise of the Father, the gift of the Son, whose death and resurrection is a perpetual and living invitation to be restored blameless in His sight (poignant accusations notwithstanding.....)



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