The story of Ashley Smith's heroism was bound to annoy some journalists as being too pat, too unbelievable, too much of a redemptive ending in a story of carnage and mayhem. Lee Siegel, television critic of The New Republic, raises some fair questions about whether Smith's story should be accepted uncritically, although reporters will have a difficult time gaining access to her captor, Brian Nichols, for some time to come. Siegel's tone turns petty, however, when he characterizes CNN's coverage of Smith as an attempt to gain an audience among the 20 million readers of Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Life.
In Siegel's essay, those 20 million people represent the dark underbelly of American culture. He reaches a cranky conclusion from one remark by Ashley Smith's aunt:
When asked by The New York Times to comment on Ashley's ordeal, Smith's aunt said, repeating a point made by [the] Reverend [Frank] Page and others, that Smith won over Nichols because she was a broken person: "I don't think that a socialite or a squeaky clean could have done that." "Squeaky clean" means a Gore, or a Kerry, guys who are also socialites, and married to socialites, and who followed all the rules. Insofar as they agree with Smith's aunt, the 20 million would be more likely to vote for Brian Nichols than for a Squeaky Clean who might make them feel bad about themselves. Perhaps the longer they live, the more they despise the human being -- because there is nary a peep from the pastors and ministers who have emerged from the 20 million about the murder victims, or about the girlfriend allegedly raped by Nichols, or about the place God had for the 4 dead people in his plan. For the 20 million, these abstract 4 seem to be expendable in the vast perspective of God's purpose.
Here's the full paragraph from the Times' report:
"She felt the sadness and she felt the aloneness; she could relate," said Kimberly Rogers, an aunt who is caring for Ms. Smith's 5-year-old daughter, Paige. "I don't think a socialite or a squeaky clean could have done that."
Can't you feel the Gore-and-Kerry hatred oozing from every word?
Siegel faults reporters for taking Smith at her word when she said The Purpose-Driven Life touched something in Nichols' soul. Yet he is supposed to divine what Kimberly Rogers meant by the phrase "squeaky clean"?
On a more encouraging front, Washington Jewish Week has published an adapted sermon in which Rabbi Philip Pohl compares Smith to the heroine from the book of Esther.
Now, the Book of Esther never mentions God. God is nowhere to be seen, or heard, at least not directly. It is as if all the evil planning causes God to hide. The rabbis point out the similarity between the name Esther and the Hebrew term Ah-steer, meaning "I will hide."
It took a woman, a total stranger from nowhere, to remind Nichols and everyone else, that even when God seems furthest away, there are methods and opportunities to bring God back to us. We just have to search harder, and find help wherever it is offered.
The Jewish people review this lesson every year, from the political insights of Mordechai, from the hatred of the evil Haman, but most of all from the courage and bravery of Queen Esther.
. . . Thank you to Smith for all the lives you saved, for demonstrating trust in all of humanity and faith in God, and, for something you could hardly have intended -- teaching me and perhaps others why indeed the Book of Esther found such a prominent place in our holy Bible.