People just don't understand. How can Mindy Carter-Shaw embrace the man who blew up her son Bridger and sentenced him to a lifetime of surgeries and misery? How can she whisper comfort and forgiveness in his ear? How can she plead with authorities to keep him out of jail?
Lawyers have called and called and called, fresh on the scent of another ambulance to chase. They want to represent her. They want to sue. They want to go for millions, ca-ching! Revenge makes the world go round. Ours is a litigious society. We can't even sled on the school playground anymore, we're so afraid of lawyers. Half of all TV shows wrap themselves around the theme of revenge.
Mindy won't have it. She's 29 years old and has little money (her husband is a college student). She relies on Medicaid to cover the medical bills. Maybe the cynic in you believes that she is offering forgiveness only because she needs the culprit out of jail so he can pay her bills. Then why, in the hours immediately after Bridger was maimed and it appeared he would die, did she urge and ultimately convince the police not to put him in jail? There was nothing to gain at the time.
You'll have to suspend your cynicism, at least for the next few paragraphs.
She learned compassion the hard way. As a child, she was a geek, a nerd, whatever you want to call it. Her family was poor. She lived in a trailer park for years. She wore the same clothes to school nearly every day. She ate her lunch alone. The popular kids kicked her in the back of the legs as she walked down the hallway at school.
They slammed her locker shut in her face. They teased her.
"We have a compassion and empathy rule in our house," she says. "You can break any other rule, but if you break the compassion and empathy rule, you're in your room for a long time."
If empathy wasn't already part of his soul, Bridger, who's 12, learned it from his mother. He literally gave kids the shirt off his back. One of his classmates each year is a boy whose clothes were ill fitting and worn. Over the years, Bridger has given him shirts, pants, shoes and a skateboard.
"Did I tell you the story about the $300?" Mindy asks.
Each morning Mindy takes a break from her bedside vigil by leaving Bridger's hospital room at 7 a.m. She always returns an hour later, but on this occasion she was gone two hours. Bridger wanted to know where she had been. She explained that she had been delayed in another part of the hospital after meeting a mother whose daughter had fallen out of a two-story window. This woman had rushed to the hospital from out of town without money. She hadn't eaten for a day.
"I want to give her my money," Bridger told his mother. He was referring to $300 he had recently received from various relatives as a birthday present. "Are you sure?" Mindy asked him. After arranging to have the money brought to his room, they presented it to the mother.
"This is who he is," says Mindy through her tears. "People have no idea the compassion he has. Here he is going through all of this, and he wants to help someone else who is going through a hard time."
Bridger empathizes with Craig Miller, as well. Miller made a pipe bomb for a neighborhood July 24 Pioneer Day fireworks celebration. Bridger was riding his bike 30 feet away when the bomb exploded. It blew out part of his stomach. It tore off a chunk of his buttocks and his back. It nearly severed one of his legs except for one flap of skin. Organs were perforated. Skin was cooked. It was a war injury. He will undergo surgeries the rest of his life. If he keeps his leg, he will walk with the help of a brace and a walker or cane, and that's the best-case scenario.
There was understandable public outrage at Miller. The Internet bloggers wanted blood and slipped into their usual volley of bickering and nastiness. But here's the way Mindy and Bridger see it: People do stupid things all the time run a yellow or red light, send a text message while driving, set off illegal fireworks and they're lucky no one gets hurt. Miller did something stupid, and he was unlucky enough that someone did get hurt.
One day in the hospital, Mindy put this question to her son: "If you had to punish Miller, how would you do it?" Bridger said he wouldn't do anything. Mindy repeated the question: "If you had no other option, how would you punish him?" Bridger replied, "I would want him to talk to other people to warn them about fireworks."
"People say I'm not being an advocate for my son because I don't want Craig punished," Mindy says. "Well, I am being an advocate for my son. That's what my son wants."
She was angry when she received a letter from the prosecuting attorney stating that the state would make an example out of Miller. "Uh, uh," she says. "My son will be emotionally damaged by that."
Look, this woman is not stupid. She's forgiving and she's pragmatic. She knows she needs a means to meet Bridger's needs. Miller is a welder with a wife and children. She could sue him for millions, but he doesn't have millions. He sent Mindy a message through a police intermediary saying that he will sell his house and use whatever means he has to pay for as much of Bridger's medical expenses as he is able.
"He'll never have enough money to do everything," Mindy says, "but he is incredibly sorry and wants to help. He is a stand-up guy."
Mindy had never met Miller until he appeared in court the other day. She saw him make brief eye contact with her, and what she saw was fear. "I looked at him and held out my arms, and I hugged him to let him know it's OK and he doesn't need to feel fear," she says. "He wanted to die after the accident. I don't want him to feel that way."
They embraced for a long time, simply because she had so much she wanted to say. Among other things, she told him that she and Bridger aren't angry, and that they weren't going to let the state make an example out of him. She assured Miller, who has been afraid to read newspapers, that Bridger has progressed and that he'll be OK. With tears in his eyes, Miller repeatedly expressed his sorrow and thanked her.
Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesday. Please send e-mail to [email protected].