The extraordinary clothed in the ordinary: Ashley Smith
Watching yesterday's interview (I can't locate the video at the moment, but here's a report ) with Brian Nichols' ex-hostage Ashley Smith, I was struck by the reaction of the newspeople to her story. Not only was she allowed to talk for twenty uninterrupted minutes, but the anchors and reporters that I saw (Fox, CNN) seemed spellbound, riveted, mesmerized, and all but speechless. It takes a great deal to jar them (and many of us, as well) out of either cynicism or stock and facile responses to heroism, and into something approaching awe. Ashley Smith seems to have done it; we know we are watching the real thing.
The power of her story was in her sincerity, her courage, and her own belief in redemption. Whether or not you yourself are religious, there is no escaping the power of her belief, and its effect on what appears to have been the already-weary Nichols. This story could have gone differently--we all expected it to go differently--and the fact that it didn't is owed in large part to Ashley Smith, an extraordinary woman who looks like any young mother you probably pass every day in the supermarket.
And what of Nichols? He remains a mystery. But one of the things I heard Ms. Smith say about Nichols caught my attention, so much so that I wrote it down verbatim: "He said, 'Look at me, look at my eyes, I am already dead.'"
If you've read my piece on Mohammed Atta's Eyes, you'll recognize this is the same phenomenon criminologist James Gilligan reports most murderers exhibiting and feeling, the same deadness in the eyes and in the heart. But Ms. Smith's "amazing grace" under pressure was to have somehow convinced this man (who in some sense did seem already dead) that he is still alive, and that his life retains some purpose. No small feat.
Of course, he will have to pay the price, as Ms. Smith told him. His crimes were heinous. But to me, this extraordinary story indicates that there was still some part of him that remained reachable, and this woman managed to reach it, at least for a moment, at least long enough to save her own life and the lives of others.
UPDATE: Michelle Malkin has kindly linked to the video of Ashley Smith's interview.