Lisa Clements was watching television with her husband, Tom, earlier this month when the doorbell rang and her life changed forever.
By now you probably have heard the story. Tom was the executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections. When he answered the door he was shot to death, apparently by a parolee who was thought to be a member of a white supremacist gang.
Like many who go through the prison system, the parolee couldn’t forgive or get past the system that had put him behind bars. Lisa, however, had a different approach to his act of vengeance, without which she might been in an emotional prison, of sorts.
“Tom believed in redemption, in the ability of the human heart to be changed,” she told hundreds who gathered for a memorial service this week, as quoted by The Gazette in Colorado Springs. “We pray for forgiveness and peace for the family of the man suspected of taking Tom’s life, and we pray every day for forgiveness and peace in our own hearts.”
This time of year draws Americans face-to-face with the two things that are said to be certainties in life. But while Congress and the president seem unable to do anything about taxes, Easter offers the firm hope that death is not a final sentence. The Christian Easter tradition is about much more than the miracle of resurrection, however. It is about the hope of forgiveness — not just for those who nailed Christ to a cross, but for all who ever have done anything wrong. Like all spiritual gifts, this is one that becomes more meaningful, personal and powerful as we give it away.
Until relatively recently, little was know clinically about the effects of forgiveness. Now it is a field of research at several universities, where studies are uncovering its physical and spiritual healing powers.
I’ve written on this topic often. Each time, I am amazed to find new and recent examples of people who have forgiven terrible things. Forgiveness is powerful medicine.
Last week, the parents of Lauren Astley, a girl killed by her former boyfriend two years ago, told Katie Couric about their decision to embrace the parents of the killer and forgive.
“We were raising them together, and the pain of losing both of them was something I wanted to share with them,” the father said, explaining the encounter. “It was just the repeating of ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry.’”
Each time, I’m also amazed by how difficult the journey of forgiveness can be. In an opinion piece last week on Huffington Post, Dr. Tian Dayton noted how forgiveness is a verb, and how it takes work. She watches patients go through stages of forgiveness, much like grieving. But they feel lighter inside, step-by-step.
“Sometimes forgiveness is that ‘get out of jail free’ card, the one that lets us leave a bad action where it belongs, with the one who did it, or with the situation that fomented it,” she wrote. Without it, “what we hold onto holds onto us.”
When I think of this subject, I always think of Vicky Ruvolo, a Long Island woman I wrote about several years ago who nearly died when a young thrill-seeker tossed a frozen turkey through her windshield.
She chose to forgive the young man, pleading with a judge for a light sentence. Today, we are Facebook friends. She spends her life trying to help other people forgive.
I think of baseball great Vernon Law, who I interviewed three years ago and who forgave players whose actions cut his career short.
Just about everyone will encounter someone in life who wants to take advantage of them, hurt them or offend them, he said, noting that he decided to forget and forgive, and let the Lord worry about it.
I now think of Lisa Clements, who surely misses her husband, but who clings to his belief that anyone can be redeemed.
Most of all, I think about Easter, and the forgiveness we all need for so many things.