They call it "friendly fire," but there was nothing friendly about it.
Nick Ivie and his partner were working a late-night shift as Border Patrol agents in Arizona when they approached an area where a sensor had been set off earlier in the day.
It was dark and difficult to see clearly in the rugged desert terrain, and the agents were on alert because the area was known for illegal trafficking.
Suddenly, Ivie and his partner saw two other figures in the darkness. The other figures saw them, too.
Everybody assumed defensive positions, and Ivie fired his weapon, injuring one of the men in the darkness. The two men returned fire and Ivie was killed.
Sadly, the two other figures that couldn't be clearly seen in the darkness were also Border Patrol agents, investigating the same sensor alarm.
The shadows, the hilly terrain and the area's reputation for illegal activities created a scenario that resulted in what Border Patrol officials called "a tragic accident" — a death due to "friendly fire."
The agents' actions were "appropriate and in accordance with their training had they, in fact, been engaging people involved in illegal activities," one official told the Associated Press.
"Unfortunately, they weren't engaging people involved in illegal activities; they were engaging each other."
And now, just like that, Nick's young wife, Christy, is a widow, and their two little girls are fatherless.
One might expect that such a cruel twist of fate would leave Christy and other members of Ivie's family feeling bitter and resentful.
One might also expect them to harbor harsh feelings toward the agents who shot Nick — accidentally or not.
Certainly, one would not expect those agents to be welcomed into the Ivie family circle as they mourned the loss of their loved one.
But one would be wrong.
"We don't have any anger in our hearts against the other agents involved in this," Nick's brother, Chris, said.
Indeed, when the two agents who returned Ivie's fire arrived at the slain agent's memorial service — an act of courage in and of itself — they were invited to sit and mourn with the family.
Those who were there say Christy — especially — reached out with love and compassion to the men, concerned about the burden of guilt they had to be carrying.
"To see Christy hug these men and whisper words of comfort to them was just an incredible example of her setting aside her pain and grief," a family spokesman told a television station.
"It seemed like the healing started right there in that room," Chris Ivie added.
It is interesting to me how easily and naturally the words "forgiveness" and "healing" fit together.
You don't often see the words "retribution" and "healing" in the same sentence. Nor do "revenge," "bitterness" or "payback" link comfortably with the word. But "forgiveness" fits, because forgiveness REQUIRES healing — or at least the beginning of it.
Forgiveness is not an act, it's an attitude. It's not something that you do, it's something that you feel. It doesn't come as the result of strategic thinking and planning. It comes directly from the heart.
And almost always, it's a heart that is at least starting to heal.
"The practice of forgiveness," said author Marianne Williamson, "is our most important contribution to the healing of the world."
Even a world that includes such painful realities as "friendly fire."
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, please go to www.josephbwalker.com.