I recently watched a talk show that centered on the topic of forgiveness. It featured a story that had such a profound impact on me, that I will not soon forget it. The guests on the show were a father, his twenty-two year old son and another young man, who was twenty-four years of age who was no relation to the father and son. He was however, their very good friend…and also the man responsible for killing the wife and mother of the father and son who were seated next to him.

 

        Right about now, some of you may be rereading that first paragraph to ensure that you read it correctly. How could a man who killed the mother and wife of a husband and son now be best friends with these heartbroken and grief stricken family members who were left behind? The answer lies in one word…forgiveness.

 

        The story that was told by the father was that his wife was headed home one evening when she was hit head on by this young  man who was nineteen at the time and who was intoxicated. He had been waiting for his wife to arrive home as she had phoned him approximately fifteen minutes earlier notifying him that she was leaving the store where she had been shopping and was on her way home. When fifteen minutes turned into thirty and then stretched to sixty, he became increasingly worried and repeatedly attempted to call her cell phone only to get no response. About an hour later police showed up at his door with the news that his wife had died in a horrific collision. The young man responsible had a blood alchohol level almost four times the legal limit and was immediately arrested and charged. The span of time from the arrest to the end of the trial was approximately nine months. The young man was found guilty and sentenced to several years in prison. When he had served his first twenty months of his sentence, the father explained that he felt a need to communicate with this young man whose actions had destroyed so many lives that night. He decided to sit down and write a letter to him asking him some pointed questions about why he did what he did, how he felt about taking the life of his wife, what was his mindset in prison , and several other inquiries as to what thoughts and feelings might be inside this offender’s mind and heart. The father’s testimony was that he really did not necesarily even expect a reply back however he did receive a response which absolutely overwhelmed him. Nothing but total and complete remorse and regret came pouring through the pages of the letter that he received back and he realized that the young man that took his wife from him that evening was not a vile monster but a young person much like his own son. He had been raised well, had not ever been in trouble with the law in the past and had future plans to continue college and hopefully lead a successful life. He began a slow and deliberate relationship with this young man through letter writing and over time, his feelings toward the one who killed his wife began to change. His son seated next to him however did not initially share his father’s concern as he shared on the show how he was intensely upset with his dad for being in any kind of communication with this person at all. He explained how for a time, it drove a wedge in the relationship between him and his dad. Two years passed when one day the son asked to read some of the letters written by the young man in prison. He was astounded to read that this young man convicted and sentenced was in no way trying to make excuses or justify his behavior for that horrific night. His letters were simply deep, sorrowful expressions of sincere remorse and anguish over what he had done. He expressed that he felt his sentence was more than fair and that he deserved all the punishment that had been given to him and that he would never be able to forgive himself for the taking of another person’s life. Through tears the son talked about how he began to understand his father’s concern for this young man and his future. The father then continued the story by telling how he contacted the district attorney’s office, the prison and other legal authorities to request a face to face visit in prison with this young man and then went on to talk about more visits and their ensuing relationship. As the father began to really know this young man, his family, who he was, his childhood, his hopes and dreams for the rest of his life, he became convinced that this individual spending the next several years in prison was not the answer. Through a series of events that included writing to the district attorney, and petitioning the court on behalf of the convicted man, he was able to have the sentence reduced with several stipulations accompanying that change in the sentence. The young man would be required to tell his story to high school students across that nation for the next several years. He would be on probation for several years, was not permitted to have a driver’s license for an extended period of time and other specific stipulations that were drawn up legally and agreed upon by both the father and son and this convicted man who was being freed. The family of the young man who had his life handed back to him by this forgiving father and son was in the audience and they were crying throughout the entire segment. I was simply stunned and found myself fairly emotional as well and I was merely a viewer removed from the situation.

 

    I had to ask myself if I would be willing to do what the father and son did? I know myself and to be honest, I think it would be extremely difficult for me to do so. I doubt that I would even have picked up that pen to begin communication with someone who was solely responsible for robbing me of someone that I deeply loved. Yet their story was such a powerful example of not just incredible forgiveness, but also of the beauty of their newfound friendship for the story did not end with the fact that the young man was now free and on probation, no, it went much further than that. This father and son joined up with him for half of his speaking engagements to high school students telling their part of the story as well so that young people everywhere who heard their story could see first hand the devastation of the families that are left behind by the actions of those who drink and drive. As they spent more time together on this speaking circuit, they actually became very close, so much so that on this particular show that day, he referred to the young man who was responsible for his wife’s death as “my second son”. The two families now spend holidays and other special occasions together. I was glued to the T.V. watching this unbelievable story of forgiveness being told. I was touched and moved, but mostly I was humbled.

 

        I kept thinking about some of the incidents in my life that I still dwelled on from time to time with feelings of bitterness or subtle anger. The time that my child was unfairly accused, or those moments in which I was misunderstood by a friend which caused some hurt or distrust. Even though I thought I had forgiven these puny offenses, I occasionally will find myself mulling them over in my mind, so in reality, have I truly forgiven? Yet here before me is a family who has so understood and practiced forgiveness that they have knit their hearts and lives together with a young man who killed their beloved wife and mother. Wow, what more can be said?

 

        Each time I find myself all twisted up in knots over a perceived slight or some action that I consider to be an offense, I try to remember that dad and son sitting with that young guy who crushed their hearts with his actions on that sad night. I am not always glad that I have watched a particular program but I have always been thankful that I tuned in to that specific show on that day. The words that I keep hearing in my head was one of the last statements that the dad uttered that day which was “He is like my second son”.

 

The forgiven young man was sitting in between the father and son that day and right as the show ended, both dad and son put their arms around that kids’ back at the very same time and kind of chuckled at their unplanned, simultaneous expression of affection.

 

I saw forgiveness in action that day.

It wasn’t just a word, but a reality.

Help me Lord to never forget that scene.