Man exercises a year of forgiveness after drunk teen driver kills wife, two children
Humans are hardwired for justice, he says, "but mercy and love have to percolate." Worthington himself had a chance to understand this in a less academic way in 1995, when his own elderly mother was killed by two men with a crowbar during a New Year's Eve burglary. At first he wanted to take a baseball bat to the murderer and "beat his brains out." It was only later that he was able to forgive.
In Islam, explains imam Shuaib-ud Din of Utah Islamic Center, the relatives of a murder victim can advise the court to forgive the murderer and no punishment will be carried out. But it's not "turn the other cheek," says Din. "Every person who has been wronged has the right to seek recompense. On the other hand, because Islam is a balanced religion, it also encourages us to forgive."
As a Jew, says orthodox Rabbi Benny Zippel of Chabad Lubavitch in Salt Lake City, every night before he goes to bed he recites the "shema": "I forgive all the people who have wronged me in the past day." It's a practice "so if you're ever faced with the big task of having to forgive someone of a major transgression, it shouldn't be a concept that's totally foreign to you."
And then, says James Wakefield of Salt Lake Theological Seminary, perhaps we can take one more difficult step: not just to forgo the retaliation we're entitled to but "to pray for the blessings of the one who injured me ... to think through their need for grace, their brokenness, my own propensity to sin, our common humanity."
Forgiveness as a choice
In the months before the accident, Chris Williams began rereading the Gospels of the New Testament, as the leaders of the LDS Church had encouraged members to do. Williams was a busy man, lay bishop of his neighborhood ward and a technical sales manager for IBM, so sometimes he just listened to the Gospels on his tape recorder as he rode the chairlift on ski outings with his children.
Although he had read the story of the Prodigal Son before, this time around he was touched by one image: an elderly father running toward a wayward son, arms outstretched in love.
One Sunday evening last month, Williams stood in front of a packed wardhouse in West Jordan and talked about what that story has come to mean to him: "If my Heavenly Father can treat me this way, if when we approach him he runs to us, then who am I to hold a grudge, to judge another person, to not forgive?"
Williams shared the podium that night with Ron White, Cameron's father. Later, the Williams and White families Chris Williams' parents, Michelle's parents, Cameron's parents and sister stood in the sanctuary together, talking. Smiling.
It was one more piece of healing in a year of forgiveness, a year in which Rwandan native Louis Gakumba stood on the stage at the Rose Wagner theater and told the story of a woman in his country whose children and husband were butchered by Hutus. The woman, Gakumba explained, has chosen not only to forgive the killer but to take him in as a son. A few months earlier, a fictional character in the chilling play "Frozen" had stood on a different stage at Rose Wagner and forgiven the man who had murdered her daughter.
As a species we hold grudges and blow each other up for every past offense we can't let go of. But occasionally, even though his friends try to get him to move toward anger, a man will choose to forgive. And then another man. A woman will reach out to the family of the man who killed her son.
After he publicly forgave Cameron White, Williams received over 800 e-mails. Some were messages of condolence. But many were vows to let go of anger and resentment. "If you can forgive," they said, "I can too."
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