Most of us consider ourselves forgiving people; above holding a grudge, let alone seeking revenge. But what if someone killed your spouse or child, or a parent or close friend? Would you then be able to forgive that person? As easy as it is to say for us to say whether we would or would not now, we can never truly know until it happens, and may we never be put to the test.
I ran across an article entitled “The Courage to Act,” written by Mike Billington, the editor of the Dodge Nature Center’s The Nature of Things
publication, in their Winter/Spring edition. Besides being editor of the publication, Mike is a photographer and naturalist at the Dodge Nature Center http://www.dodgenaturecenter.org/default.asp
in St. Paul, MN. The article affected me so much, I had to share it with you.
In “The Courage to Act,” Mike explained how years ago, when his “homestay mother” Violet and her three youngest sons were returning home from a Christmas parade, she decided to walk home and do some errands on the way. They were crossing the street in late afternoon, when a car failed to turn at the bend of the road. It crossed over two lanes of traffic and struck her and one of her sons. Somehow, she had managed to push the other two out of the way. The one who was struck only received minor injuries, but Violet passed away several hours later at the hospital.
Mike and Violet’s family later learned that the driver was an illegal immigrant driving without a license, spoke little to no English, and should never have been driving. Apparently eyewitnesses at the scene had stopped him from fleeing. According to Mike, the man was taken in by the police, and later faced criminal charges and deportation. At the time, that was the last Mike thought about him.
Then, several months ago when he returned to Minnesota, Mike received a national News Zealand newspaper clipping in the mail. The clipping had a picture of what remained of his “homestay family”—his homestay father Tracy, and the three sons. The article itself reported how Tracy had stood up before the judge and asked for clemency for the man who was responsible for the death of his wife, Violet.
To quote Mike: “In the months after Violet’s death, Tracy had heard that the family of the man driving the car had been devastated, and that their son had been riddled with guilt and depression. He realized that two lives had been lost that day—two families had been shattered. Through the pain and suffering from grieving for his wife, Tracy decided that for there to be justice, there must be understanding between their two cultures and that he must take the time to hear the man’s story.” Tracy met the man face to face.
In his article, Mike wrote, “The man’s name was Tomasi Tabokaai, a twenty-six year old from the Polynesian island of Kiribati, just north of Fiji in the South Pacific. The night before the accident he had been up late at a family function. Since he was applying for citizenship and did not want to do anything to jeopardize it, he awoke before dawn with the rest of his family and went to work picking asparagus at a nearby farm. Late in the afternoon he headed home. Little sleep and exhaustion from the day’s long work caught up with him and he fell asleep at the wheel. After the accident, overcome by shock, he did indeed leave his vehicle, but was kept at the scene by bystanders.
“As Tomasi was telling his story,” Mike continued, “Tracy could see in his eyes deep remorse and absolute regret. He too was a man broken, suffering, plagued by nightmares whose life seemed almost over. In the suffering they both shared and mutual understanding he found, Tracy came to realize how easy it could have been for anyone to be in those shoes, and that what had happened had truly been an accident. An accident that not only took the life of his wife, but was also taking the life of this young man. In court, Tracy stood before the judge and against the wishes of many in his family asked for clemency. He said, “On behalf of my wife I forgive him. I know Violet is pleased that I have it in my heart to forgive.”
Mike ended his article by saying, “When I talked with Tracy about all that had happened, I was humbled by his ability to look beyond his own grief and do what was right, even in the face of alienating some of his own family. His convictions would have it no other way. Every day, each of us faces our own battles between what is comfortable and our convictions. The question is, how long are we going to allow the fear of the uncomfortable stop us from finding the courage to act? We must awaken, stand up and be counted. We must find the courage to take responsibility for ourselves, our families, and the environments in which we live.”
And so, once again I pose this question to you. Hopefully no occasion will arise to test our convictions, but: If some person killed someone who was dear to you, who made your life worth living, would you be able to forgive? As for myself, after reading Mike’s article, I think it would depend on the circumstances.