Although Chris Williams misses his loved ones dearly, countless lives have been blessed as a result of his response to a tragic accident.
That’s how the Salt Lake City native feels eight years after he lost part of his family in a car accident involving a 17-year-old drunken driver. By choosing to forgive the young man, Williams has been able to heal and help others learn about forgiveness along the way.
“Whenever I ponder it, the Spirit whispers to me that I have no idea how many lives this has touched,” Williams said in a recent interview with the Deseret News.
Now, more people will have the chance to be inspired. Williams’ story is being portrayed in a feature film titled "Just Let Go,” starring Henry Ian Cusick and created by filmmakers Christopher S. Clark and Patrick H. Parker. It premiered in theaters in a one-night only nationwide event called a "night of forgiveness" on Sept. 28. The film opens again on Thursday, Oct. 8, and Friday, Oct. 9, with showings in every Cinemark and Larry H. Miller Megaplex theater throughout Utah.
Whether Williams is sharing his story on screen or in person, he is grateful and happy to help others learn about the universal power of forgiveness.
'Just Let Go'
“The biggest issue was the human element. It’s difficult in a book to portray the grieving. It’s a bit more easy to show on the screen,” Williams said. “Pass through a tragedy and come through with a message of healing and hope — those are the things I wanted them to explore deeper in the film.”
Williams’ only reservation about making the movie was how it might impact the young man who caused the accident. He is now married and trying to move on with his life, Williams said.
“I think highly of him and his prospects,” Williams said. “I wanted to make sure the continued media around this and what happened eight years ago doesn’t keep bringing it back into his life.”
Cusick’s on-screen performance was impressive, Williams said.
“(Cusick) studied me more than I thought, down to what shoes and clothing I wore,” he said. “He is a gracious, wonderful individual. I was in awe of his acting abilities and performance.”
Connecting through experience
In the Sunday morning session of the October 2005 general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Gordon B. Hinckley related the incredible story of Victoria Ruvolo, a New York woman who forgave a teenager after he threw a frozen turkey into her windshield and caused her tremendous physical harm.
Williams was listening to the prophet that day. Hearing her story helped him cope with losing his family two years later, he said.
“I remember being so moved by that story because I asked myself, ‘Could I forgive somebody if they threw a turkey in my face?’ ” Williams said. “She forgave and hugged the teen. That helped me be more prepared for what happened in 2007.”
In the winter of 2010, three years after Williams’ life changed, he was traveling on the East Coast and wondered if he could find Ruvolo and meet her. To his delight, they connected through her attorney. Ruvolo had read about his story in the Deseret News, Williams said. They met, discussed their experiences, and offered each other support.
“I was thrilled,” Williams said. “We spoke for an hour. What was beautiful about that conversation is it was not about religion. She is Catholic, I’m Mormon, but it was about moral agency. In both our situations, forgiveness brought healing.”
In recent years, Ruvolo has worked in detention and rehabilitation facilities with a program called “Restorative Justice,” which helps people who are incarcerated to forgive themselves and make something of their lives, Williams said.
“(Her story) had changed their lives,” he said. “It impacted her positively. It helped her to heal and move forward, knowing what she had done was inspiring thousands of people.”
When traveling for his work, Williams is often stopped in airports by full-time missionaries who recognize him from the Mormon Messages video.
“They comment on how many times they have used (the video), how many people have decided to join the church, stop fighting or who come back to the church and hope to change their lives,” Williams said. “I think the count is well over 100 now, of people who have joined the church or been reactivated.”
Williams has met people who he knows he was meant to help. In those situations, he is delighted to share his testimony of Jesus Christ and the power of forgiveness. In the end, they always tell him the same thing: They can do it because he did it. He relishes such opportunities.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “They seem like chance interactions, but they are not. They are opportunities in which I believe God uses us to bless individual lives, as well as collective lives. It’s amazing to see how involved he is in these details.
“I look at what the Savior did for all of us in an eternal sense,” he added. “It’s taking an unjust situation that he experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, then producing so much good from that. In a lot of ways, that’s what we are here to experience and learn: how can we take the trials, tests and hardships that we are presented with and turn those into a foundation upon which we can build hope, love, redemption and forward progression. (The Atonement of Jesus Christ) covers every type of situation.”
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