This is a tale originally collected by Jack Kornfield a best selling American author and Buddhist practitioner.
Tommy grew up in a poor neighbourhood, not 'working class', rather 'unemployed class'. He didn't have a father and he never asked how his mother managed to feed him and his brothers. Of course things were tough at school, bullying was rife so he had to learn to fight back desperately, he sometimes won and was generally held in respect and considered too tough to pick on. He was better off in class and had learned to read and write; in fact he rather enjoyed learning; that is whenever the class was quiet enough to learn anything.
As he moved into his teens he realised that it would be in his interests to join the local street gang; so he applied. Fine; he was a good prospect, well respected by the disreputable, so all he had to do was a simple initiation. He was given one of the gang's precious side arms and told to go out and rob somebody and return with a wallet and, of course, the precious revolver.
It seemed easy enough, but once on the street it seemed very difficult. "What if I stop a busy adult and he walks all over me and perhaps pulls a gun? I'm not really ready for this." Then he saw a boy about his own age walking aimlessly along the footpath, this lad seemed an easy mark. Tommy approached carefully and checking that no-one else was about, he pulled out the gun with trembling hands. The boy jumped with fright when he saw the gun and turned and ran off before Tommy had time to demand his money or his wallet. Suddenly the whole scheme had gone pear-shaped. In despair Tommy pointed his gun and to his horror it went off. The boy dropped to the ground and lay frightfully still. Tommy ran in the other direction. Later, when he returned to the gang to return the revolver, he was treated with contempt. He had failed badly and the news was all over the neighbourhood, the boy was dead and everyone seemed to know who was responsible. Tommy followed his best option and walked down to the police station and gave himself up.
In the trial that followed Tommy's murder charge was reduced to manslaughter. His 'first offence' and the fact that he had confessed counted in his favour. Nevertheless he was given a mandatory five year sentence, mitigated by the fact that as he was a juvenile, he was put into special protection in the gaol. While everything passed in a blur he had one clear recollection from his trial. As he was led away after sentencing the mother of the boy he had killed stood up, looked him in the eyes and said very clearly "I am going to kill you."
Gaol wasn't so bad; in fact it was safer then the streets. There was, however, one particular problem. Every month he had a visitor; his worst enemy. Yes the mother of the boy he had killed used to come without fail on the last Thursday of each month. At first he had been so embarrassed that he could not even look at her; was this some kind of torture? She talked to him quietly and even asked how he was managing and did he need anything? After a few months he started to respond and found that she would indeed bring extra cigarettes and other small luxuries. He often wondered when she would bring some poisoned food, but still couldn't help himself and would eat her offerings later in his cell.
When Tommy was due for release the mother asked him what plans did he have for his future? Of course he had none, no idea at all. But where was he going to live would he look for work? All these questions were squarely in the too hard basket. Then the mother suggested that she had a friend who would give him a job (if he shaped up). More surprisingly she suggested that Tommy could stay in room at her flat, while he looked for better accommodation. Was she joking, this was a set up so she could carry out her original threat!
When he was released he had nothing! In desperation, he took the lady up on her offers. He was never really a criminal and he settled enthusiastically into his new work, grateful to the kind man who gave him a chance. He was quite comfortable living with the kind lady at her flat that he never considered moving on. She treated him like family and even seemed grateful to have him around; perhaps she had changed her mind about killing him?
One evening as they ate a meal together, the mother spoke out. "You might remember my promise to kill you? I have done just that. The person you once were is now dead and you have been born again. I still miss my only son and I would like to adopt you in his place." YES!