Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. The two men who targeted Matthew Shepard and brutally murdered him. They are alive today and are serving two consecutive life sentences for their unthinkable crimes.
I’ve heard a lot of people say:
“Don’t focus on the killer.”
“Don’t use their names.”
“Don’t give them the infamy that perhaps they were seeking.”
In our process of learning Considering Matthew Shepard and researching Matt’s murder, I’ve thought about them a lot.
Within the work, composer, Craig Hella Johnson, forces you (the audience member) to think about them too. He doesn’t just mention them and label them as monsters, villains, as pure evil. He plainly states the facts around what they did to Matthew and then he asks you to answer the question, “Am I like you, Aaron and Russell?”
(We have included the full text of this poem, written by the composer, at the bottom of this post.)
When I think about Aaron and Russell, I wonder what were their lives were like in Laramie in 1998? I think about their parents. I try to imagine their friends. I try to imagine the way they might have seen the world. How did they learn this hate that led them to such horrid actions?
I think about our world today. The mass shooting earlier this week at Thousands Oaks Bar, the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue last week fueled by anti-semitism. Shootings, terrorism, more shootings, acts of hate, political divisiveness, targeting and generalizing entire races/religions/groups of people as evil or dangerous criminals.
We are so divided in our country and there is so much hate.
How have we come to this?
Why do we separate and distance ourselves from those we disagree with?
Why do assume bad intentions of those who see the world differently than we do?
What drives someone to see others as deserving of acts of violence?
The teacher in me is always thinking about our learned behaviors and the experiences that have shaped our beliefs and worldview. I don’t believe that some people are just evil. I don’t believe in the idea of pure evil that exists separate from humanity. I believe that all human beings are innately good, and often “get lost along the way.”
This movement reminds me to ask myself this question much more often. Am I like you?
What would happen if we all asked that of ourselves, especially for those we feel least alike?
I’m reminded of Megan Phelp’s story, the granddaughter of Westboro Baptist Church founder, Fred Phelps. Megan made the choice to separate from the church after engaging in conversation with people she disagreed with her extremist views. People took the time to get to know her, understand her, and challenge her ideas. They didn’t dismiss her as an evil monster. They saw her as a human being who has been shaped and enveloped by what they saw as bad ideas.
“I Am Like You” is asking us to do to take the time to have a conversation with ourselves.
To search for a way to begin a conversation that aims to understand. Acknowledge other’s feelings, even when you disagree with them. It asks us to believe in the potential for good in all people. To take responsibility for our actions, our culture, and where we all could get lost along the way.
I am like you
When I think of you (and honestly I don’t like to think about you)
but sometimes I do,
I am so horrified, and just so angry and confused (and scared) that you could do things to another boy — they were so cruel and so undeserved, so dark and hard and full of (I don’t know)
Late one night I had a glimpse
of something I recognized, just a tiny glimpse —
I don’t even like to say this out loud,
it isn’t even all that true—
but I wondered for a moment,
am I like you? (in any way)
(I pray the answer is no)
Am I like you?
I bet you once had hopes and dreams, too.
Some things we love get lost along the way,
That’s just like me get lost along the way—
I am like you, I get confused and I’m afraid
and I’ve been reckless, I’ve been restless, bored,
unthinking, listless, intoxicated,
I’ve come unhinged
and made mistakes
and hurt people very much.
Sometimes I feel (in springtime, in early afternoon)
the sunshine warm on my face;
you feel this too (don’t you?),
the sunshine warm on your face.
I am like you
(this troubles me).
I am like you
(just needed to say this).
Some things we love get lost along the way.
- Craig Hella Johnson
Performance Details - Tickets Available Here
Friday, November 16 at 8PM – South Church: 292 State St. Portsmouth, NH
Saturday, November 17 at 7:30PM - First Congregational Church: 177 N. Main St, Concord, NH
Sunday, November 18 at 4PM - Plymouth Congregational Church: 4 Post Office Square, Plymouth, NH
The New Hampshire Master Chorale, led by Dr. Dan Perkins, is a non-profit choir established in the spring of 2003. This premier chamber ensemble is dedicated to excellence in the art of choral music performance. Members of the group are trained singers, auditioned from throughout New England, who have performed as soloists and in choral ensembles throughout the world. You can get a taste of the NHMC on our SoundCloud page: soundcloud.com/nh-master-chorale or find us on Facebook and twitter: www.facebook.com/NHMasterChorale and twitter.com/nhmasterchorale.
Tickets available at nhmasterchorale.org and at the door — $30 general, $25 senior, $15 group of 10+
Free admission for undergraduates and students in grades K–12.
The New Hampshire Master Chorale also utilizes a “Pay What You Are Able” ticket policy so that anyone can attend regardless of financial ability. We welcome all donations to support this.
The New Hampshire Master Chorale is funded in part by a generous grant from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts as well as through support from MegaPrint and Holiday Concord NH Downtown.