Last week we made a comment here that I sense is worthy of a little increased attention. But first, let’s peruse a few poignant events, some recent, some not, but all profoundly relevant…
As reported by NBC Today and Readers Digest: “Early one morning in Dacula, Ga., Matt Swatzell was driving home from a 24-hour shift as a firefighter and EMS and had only 30 minutes of sleep. He was less than four miles from his home on October 2, 2006 when he suddenly heard what he calls ‘the most God awful sound I’ve ever heard.’
Swatzell, then 20, realized he had fallen asleep at the wheel and crashed. When he got out of the car, he saw the car of 30-year old June Fitzgerald. She was pregnant and with her then 19-month-old daughter Faith. Faith survived the crash but her mother and unborn sibling passed away.” “Fitzgerald’s husband, a full-time pastor, asked for the man’s diminished sentence—and began meeting with Swatzell for coffee and conversation. Many years later, the two men remain close. ‘You forgive as you’ve been forgiven.’”
From 2019 in Dallas, Texas as reported by CNN: “Strangers now recognize Brandt Jean after he publicly forgave the former Dallas police officer who killed his older brother in his own apartment… Brandt Jean shocked many when he told Amber Guyger he forgave her and said he didn’t want her to go to prison after she received a 10-year sentence in October for killing Botham Jean, a 26-year-old accountant [Brandt’s brother]. With the judge’s permission, Brandt walked across a Dallas courtroom and hugged Guyger tightly for nearly a minute. Two months after that hug, Brandt has not dwelled on the moment. It was a show of forgiveness in the most public of places, an instance of him being the person he was raised to be.”
And from ABC News: “The New York mother of two who suffered a serious brain injury and lost the use of her left eye after two teenagers sent a shopping cart crashing down 50 feet onto her says she forgives the boys and is more concerned for the welfare of her own teenage son, who witnessed the accident.
Marion Hedges was briefly in a coma and now needs daily physical therapy after two teenage boys hoisted a shopping cart over the railing of a shopping mall parking garage last fall. In a video tape obtained by the New York Post, the two teens are seen hoisting a shopping cart at the East Harlem Target shopping center in New York City. At first it gets stuck, but then the teens push it over, sending it crashing 50 feet down and hitting Hedges, 47, as she is standing below. Hedges spent weeks fighting for her life. ‘I wish them well, I do,’ she said. ‘I feel very sorry for them. My son is 13 also, and he is a very good boy.’”
Each of the above is a profound story of forgiveness. Not only are they real life accounts of forgiveness, each of the above would no doubt be incredibly difficult to forgive. In Marion Hedges’ situation, for example, her father-in-law had a far different perspective. “What have these two young thugs learned? That you can get away with something like this with very little punishment, and that’s a very bad commentary on the state of justice.” He told an ABC News affiliate that he believes the boys should be “hung by their toe nails.”
Hedges’s father-in-law isn’t alone. There are multiple persons in each of the above instances who believed that not only was forgiveness unnecessary, but it was also wrong to extend.
In our most recent post examining the (what I believe very disrespectful) case for cancel culture, we made the statement that one of the unfortunate aspects of the intentionally ostracizing tool is that it circumvents the apology/forgiveness/repentance process — and that process is full of unparalleled power. But my sense is we live in a culture that doesn’t fully value the process. Why? Because we don’t understand what forgiveness actually is… or in reality, is not.
Forgiveness is not excusing, tolerating or diminishing what happened. Forgiveness is not a dismissal of justice. Forgiveness is, however, the decision to release the person who caused you pain. Forgiveness is thereby freeing to the one who chooses to extend it.
Brandt Jean would say that he originally wanted to kill the woman who hurt him and his family so much. “Pretty much this entire year, I pretty much … hated her.” That changed when he heard her apology. “That’s when like my heart kind of opened up.”
He would say more. “Gradually, throughout this year, I worked on myself and I understood that this anger shouldn’t be kept inside me.” He also said that his willingness to forgive the woman will help him apply that spirit of forgiveness to other parts of his life. “If I could forgive her then, I could forgive anyone for anything.”
Not always supported by current culture. Often incredibly difficult. But always powerful and good.