Columnists > Voices

Sins of youth

Would you want to be remembered for what you did at 21?

Issue: "Summer of '68," Aug. 9, 2008

This month brings the 10th anniversary of Bill Clinton's admission that he had had an "inappropriate" relationship with Monica Lewinsky. I wonder where she is today. I just checked the dictionary to see if she's a verb, like "going postal." I did find her in one online listing, but we don't need to print the definition.

Driving my son to wrestling practice I asked if he'd ever heard of Monica Lewinsky (he's 18). He looked at me as if I had asked if he's heard of Chicago. Well then, how about your sister, I inquired. She would have been 4 at the time. Another incredulous look.

How would you like to be known the rest of your life for something you did when you were 21? How would you like to be a byword? A stock in trade of comics on Saturday Night Live? How would you like to be known as a "sinner"?

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I have had correspondences with a few "sinners." One of them wrote this:

"In Texas we're no longer referred to as 'inmates' but as 'offenders,' a term and label which I think is demeaning and debasing and is intended to be. Here we are continually viewed through the lens of our past (there's never any living it down), often disregarding what one's record of good conduct is.

"By the grace of God and the prudence He has given me to exercise in this situation, I've not had a disciplinary action against me in over 10 years. (Very unusual, especially for this particular unit which is known throughout the system as being a 'disciplinary' unit.) Nevertheless, a good disciplinary record means little or nothing in this prison system, be it for favorable work assignments or for pardon eligibility."

Another inmate I know is a sinner of sinners. His was a sex crime, and even other "offenders" treat him like pond scum. (I wonder if there are hierarchies in hell too-or lowerarchies, I guess you'd say.) The man asked me if I think there's a church in the whole lower forty-nine that will give him a chance when he's released, many years from now.

Jesus hung out with "sinners": "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Matthew 9:11). No one was too low for Him, evidently-crucified thieves, serial adulteresses, Roman-toady tax collectors skimming off the top, homeless demoniacs. This was His company of choice. The one thing He couldn't abide was religious people.

Have we ever taken five minutes to think about how weird this is-that the God of the universe should favor the poor over the rich, the sick over the well, sinners over the "righteous"? What's in it for Him? That's the question that has Satan's desk piled with overflowing ashtrays and half-drunk cups of coffee. C.S. Lewis' devil writes in The Screwtape Letters, "The truth is, I slipped by mere carelessness into saying that the Enemy really loves the human. That, of course, is an impossibility. He is one being; they are distinct from Him. Their good cannot be His. All His talk about Love must be a disguise for something else-He must have some real motive for creating them and taking so much trouble about them. The reason one comes to talk as if He really had this impossible Love is our utter failure to find out that real motive. What does He stand to make out of them? That is the insoluble question.

". . . We know that He cannot really love: nobody can; it doesn't make sense. If we could only find out what He is really up to! Hypothesis after hypothesis has been tried, and still we can't find out. Yet we must never lose hope; more and more complicated theories, fuller and fuller collections of data . . . cannot, surely, fail to succeed."

I've been thinking about what I was doing when I was 21. That was the year I fell in with two 19-year-old Mexican banditos on a quasi-spiritual quest for mushrooms, and ended up in a jail in Guanajuato. It was just my good fortune that I wasn't in the Oval Office at the time.

I guess I would have wanted to change my name. I sometimes wonder if Monica Lewinsky wants to change hers.

If you have a question or comment for Andrée Seu, send it to

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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