Jan Welse moved about his home and blacksmith shop with powerful presence, quick temper, and good humour, but after he had been released from prison, he no longer laughed and his passion was muted. He was pale and walked hunched over. What had happened?
His neighbour was a tormentor. He had complained about Jan’s downspout for years already—“Make sure you keep your water to yourself, Welse!” And about the dog—“If I find your mutt in my garden one more time, I’ll break its back legs” About the garbage can that neighbour children would kick over, etc.
But none of that was fatal. It got serious when Marietje Welse’s little kitten disappeared, and then was found poisoned, hanging by its tail on the doorknob of the back door—found by Marietje herself! The whole family was at the dinner table when the distraught child came carrying the limp little body of the dead kitten.
Jan took it from her arms and blinked a few times.
Then he stood up. His wife, who knew him well, grabbed his arm and cried, “Jan, Jan, don’t do it. Think of the children!”
But he did not even hear her. His face went white and his eyes flashed like fire. He ran to his neighbour’s house and banged on the door. When his neighbour opened the door Jan grabbed him by his shirt, pulled him outside, and, with his sledgehammer fists, punched him in the face, three times, four times, until his hands were red with blood.
Neighbours and police came between them, and the result was that Jan Welse ended up in jail for three weeks.
And now he sat across from me. He had been released a couple of days before. “So Jan, what is on your mind?”
He looked at me shyly with sad and lifeless eyes. “I’m not doing so well, Pastor.”
“Come now, Jan,” said I. “The punishment was understandably miserable, but hey, that is now in the past. And you shouldn’t think that we will think any less of you because of what you did or on account of the sentence…” I was searching for the right words.
“You speak just like the others,” said Jan.
To speak “just like the others” is not a splendid thing.
“What do you mean, Jan?”
And then he told me. “Pastor, everyone is so nice to me. When I came home, flowers and a cake from the family stood on the table. In the evening the board members of my trade association came to congratulate me. Everyone thinks the whole thing was no big deal. The one says, ‘You had every right.’ Someone else says, ‘You just had some bad luck, Jan!’ Or, ‘You should have hit that Judas a few more times!’ And if I then say that I find it all quite awful, they begin to laugh and say, ‘Don’t worry about it, Jan!’ They actually think of me as a hero.”
I asked, “And what do you yourself think, Jan?”
“Well, Pastor, they mean well, of course, and yet they are standing in my way. I can talk about it with you. Look, if the neighbours had not held me back I would have killed him, and then I would be a murderer. And when I think about that, then I don’t want any cake or flowers. Then I only want to confess my guilt before God. I risked everything because of my temper—my wife, my children, my work.”
His voice became urgent and his eyes pierced mine. “I have a right to confess my guilt don’t I, Pastor?”
And then I understood that also the mercies of the pious can be cruel.
“I have a right to that, don’t I, Pastor?”
I nodded and he folded his hands, those huge smith’s hands that could hit so hard and which had been covered with the blood of another man.
“Would you pray with me?”
“Zijn Recht” in Peper en Zout by M.E. Voila, Kok: Kampen, n.d. Trans., George van Popta
See also Selah and The Little Funeral.