Justin Ross Harris continues to make headlines daily as details continue to unfold about his past, his secret life, and all of the things that he allegedly took part in while his son was dying in a hot car just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. There are so many problems with this case complicated by today’s instant information culture. If and when the case goes to trial, it will be very difficult to find anyone who hasn’t heard of Harris and his case unless they have lived under a rock. And somehow, it seems that we’ve forgotten in our country that people are generally considered to be innocent until proven guilty.
Before you label me an idiot and before you start shouting about all of the compelling arguments in favor of Harris’ guilt, hear me out.
When my family first moved to our home outside of Richmond, Virginia, we caught wind of something that had happened a few years prior to our arrival which had shaken up the community. A local pastor had left his 3 year old daughter in his SUV on an August day and she died of heat stroke. The pastor was well-loved and respected in our small community and received positive support from all over the community.
I remember hearing the story for the first time and thinking to myself, “How could somebody do that?” My mind went immediately to a judgment before I had even had time to hear the story. It seemed like such an obvious thing to me, something that wouldn’t make sense for an alert and rational person to do……until I really began to think about it.
No, I had never experienced something like this myself, but I understood what it was like to get distracted and to be distracted. How many times had I missed an exit off of the highway or forgotten why I had gone someplace or called someone? No, it wasn’t the same, but everyone deals with distractions differently, everyone has their own way of handling them and some are much better at multi-tasking than others.
The other day, a friend of my wife and mine posted on her blog that she had a similar experience, forgetting one of her children in the car. Fortunately, she realized the child’s absence before it was too late, but it was enough to shake her up and make her think twice before applying judgment like so many have tended to do when they hear about the case.
No, Harris hasn’t done himself any favors with his activities on the internet and phone. Character can go a long way in cases like this, being the difference between being vilified and demonized or empathized with and given the benefit of the doubt.
It’s always easy to point fingers though, until those fingers are pointing at me. I learned a long time ago that three words to avoid at all costs are, “I will never.” I had said those words a number of times when I was younger and found myself eating them over and over again. It’s much easier to judge and throw rocks when your experience is limited, but as soon as you begin to experience more, you gain a greater understanding and realize that things are not always what they seem and black and white, while working well on paper and in theory, rarely ever play out so vividly in the real world.
I don’t know what Harris did or didn’t do, but I do know that he hasn’t been tried yet. There’s a story behind the story that no one has heard yet. It doesn’t seem like he’s innocent, but you can’t always take what you see on the surface at face value, there might be something deeper lingering below that surface. Grace has been extended to me on so many different occasions and I am thankful for that. The least that I can do is extend that same grace to others, after all, one day the fingers might just be pointing at me.