In thinking more about the theme of “Redemption and University of Kentucky Basketball, it occurred to me that, in that essay, I had been thinking of the meaning of the word “redemption” as something akin to rescue. That is, I tried to describe the hope that many Kentuckians feel when they watch University of Kentucky basketball. A hope that transcends the burdens that many carry in their everyday lives.
However, the word “redemption” has other meanings, including an act of redeeming or atoning for a fault or mistake.
I am in Kentucky this week helping take care of my mother and, while I was mulling over this second definition of “redemption,” I had occasion to drive through Bourbon County, Kentucky. Now, although the name of the county does immediately bring to mind the fine whiskies made in my state, it wasn’t heading to church on Sunday morning after a few too many sips of bourbon on Saturday night that made me think of atonement.
When I think of Bourbon County, Kentucky, I think of what is, in my mind, one of the greatest stories of redemption as atonement in the 20th century.
Bourbon County was the birthplace of Edward F. Prichard, Jr. Prichard was a top student at Princeton University and Harvard Law School. He was one of the finest minds in FDR’s New Deal administration. However, in 1949, at age 34, he was convicted of stuffing a Bourbon County ballot box and sentenced to two years in federal prison. Tracy Campbell’s biography, Short of the Glory: The Fall and Redemption of Edward F. Prichard, Jr. gives a compelling account of these events.
In the 1970s, Prichard began a climb back to distinction: he became an advocate for civil rights and controlling the negative environmental impact of strip mining. Most notably, he was a champion of education reform.
To my way of thinking, Prichard’s story is about the impact of our choices – and whether, if we make a poor choice, we are forever burdened by that choice.
Several years ago, I discussed with a much-loved mentor whether I had chosen the right career. I ended my analysis by concluding that the analysis itself was irrelevant since I was in my mid-thirties and didn’t know how to do anything but be a tax lawyer. He just laughed and said, “Well, Kim, Ed Prichard was in federal prison in his mid-thirties and look at what he went on to achieve.”
We are all likely to fall “short of the glory” in one way or another. Each of us may feel regret for how we have performed as a parent, child, friend, employee or, even, as a human being. However, the choices we make are not etched in stone. If we make a decision that we later question, at any moment we have the ability to choose a new path. Without shame. Without regret. Like Ed Prichard.