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  • Writer's pictureJenny Penland

The Benchmark for Repentence ‣ Society's false claim on Kobe Bryant's death and legacy.

(This is being written reactively, and as a stream of consciousness).

The media and communal reaction to the death of a star - particularly those with a checkered past -is always quite jarring. Insensitive, even. And because of this, in times like these, I think it's particularly important that we pause to check our egos, before providing unsolicited commentary.

I suppose it's a testament to my timeline, but in the wake of Kobe Bryant's death, I've actually seen more posts condemning him for the sexual assault case than by those mourning the crash. And while I fully, and personally, understand how triggering it may be to see an alleged rapist canonized - I should hope we are able to ask ourselves, honestly - absent death - what would ever satisfy us?

I cannot begin to comprehend how anyone could revel in another's passing. I cannot conceptualize feeling someone "deserved" to die. Not serial killers, not terrorists, no one. My empathy extends to them, to their families.

The question I have for those who disagree, is... If someone does something horrible - do you believe they are ever worthy of forgiveness? Is there a benchmark for repentance? When living under a microscope, as Kobe Bryant did, I'd assume it would have been nearly impossible to leave behind anything other than a complicated legacy. I'm no star, and still I know I've left plenty feeling wronged. I'm sure for some, there's nothing I could ever do to earn their forgiveness. Luckily, I'm sure for others, there's nothing I could ever do to truly lose their support.

And in understanding this ratio, I cannot help but consider the many facets of Kobe Bryant. That by virtually all accounts, he was a wonderful father and a loving husband. Kobe has written and published a number of (truly amazing) children's books that provide much needed representation in literature. He's consistently donated his time and money to Make a Wish, Wounded Warriors, and several other charities. He's fought homelessness and inner-city poverty. And at the time of the crash, he was on his way to coach his daughter's youth basketball practice at the Mamba Sports Academy; a facility he co-founded. Have you done this much for others? Sure, you can say you would if you could. But the reality remains - Kobe never had to; but did so anyway. When keeping score on a stranger's soul, does this count for not?

Consider the type of person you think you are, versus the version your partner sees, or your children see; against that which your greatest enemy or naysayer sees. How many versions of you have there been? Person to person; year after year? I'd venture to guess there'd be greater consensus on your weaknesses than your strengths. So, in those areas of contradiction, whose version of you is most worthy? And are any totally invalidated by way of a singular wrongdoing?

Do you think the version of "Kobe" you feel you knew is more accurate than the version held by his wife? Children? Coaches? Teammates? If so, how in the world?

To be forthright, the hollowness I feel today does not stem from a love for the game; but instead from the heavy reminder of our fragility. That more often than not, our legacy is fractured by way of the contradictions of those who remember us, both fondly and callously. I'm not a Lakers fan; I'm not even a basketball fan. But if a man successful enough to "carpool" via thirteen passenger helicopter, can still die at the hands of low visibility and human error -- so can I. So can my loved ones. And if I'm being honest; much more easily. In the first five weeks of this year, I'll have been on eight airplanes, one cruise ship: in four states, and three countries. I've taken unnumbered, daily commutes on the deadliest interstate in America.

Candidly, I've had countless opportunities to die.

How could I not feel it? How could you not understand that part of grief is the recognition of your limited time and space, here? That chopper fell at the rate of 4,000 feet per minute - 45 miles per hour. Can you imagine that fear? That feeling of guilt and responsibility, knowing your child and the children of other's are aboard your private helicopter? The thought crossed of never being able to say goodbye? To leaving your girls behind? I can. And that's where my grief comes from.

So before you post your harshest thoughts; before you question the motives or feelings of those who are grief-struck by his passing, or anyone else's, for that matter - I urge you to consider: If the person who hated you most were to give your eulogy, what would they have to say? And would your children or spouse deserve to be force-fed that version of "you" in the wake of their entirely valid heartbreak?

Oh, what horrid a world if we were all to believe so.

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