I recently reviewed a victim impact statement from a parent who lost their son in a tragic car accident. Her 8 year old son was struck and killed by a distracted motirist while he rode his bicycle to school. In court, the mother of the boy (AJ) said in part:
“The loss of AJ has severely wounded our family and deeply injured a community of adults and children who knew him as a friend. I have had a year to put this letter together and am still at a loss for words. How do I continue to move each day without my little boy? My daughter Anna still will not open up and talk about the incident. She was blaming herself for a long time and is longing for her brother and best friend. My son Aaron won’t admit to new friends that he even had a brother because he would have to explain what happened. My husband Bill misses his ‘little buddy’ that used to watch all sports events with him. At school, AJ’s friends tell me how much they miss him. His best friend, Ryan, has been in therapy and hurts to find a friend to play with and share his secrets with. He misses the love of his friend. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my little AJ.”
The victim’s brother [Aaron] said of the suspect, in part, “I would like you to know that you are forgiven. I pray and hope that you have learned to forgive yourself. Despite whatever pain your happiness, good will, and peace of heart.”
Although this was a tragic accident, you cannot help but to recognize the scale of emotions of everyone involved. Yet, for a moment one is confronted with the thought of forgiveness. Will it make me feel better? Is it the right thing to do? Is it my job to punish others? Will it make me the better person? Will my forgiveness translate as a shroud of guilt toward the offender? Will it release me from the anger I have toward the offender? These are all valid questions and there may be no right answer. After all, every scenario, crime, or scandal is different, all involving different human actors.
Here are some words from Nobel Prize recipient and author of No Future Without Forgiveness, Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu…
“To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. It is also a process that does not exclude hatred and anger. These emotions are all part of being human. You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things: the depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger.
However, when I talk of forgiveness I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred. Remaining in that state locks you in a state of victimhood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator. If you can find it in yourself to forgive then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator. You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person too.
But the process of forgiveness also requires acknowledgement on the part of the perpetrator that they have committed an offence. I don’t like to talk about my own personal experience of forgiveness, although some of the things people have tried to do to my family are close to what I’d consider unforgivable. I don’t talk about these things because I have witnessed so many incredible people who, despite experiencing atrocity and tragedy, have come to a point in their lives where they are able to forgive. Take the Craddock Four, for example. The police ambushed their car, killed them in the most gruesome manner, set their car alight. When, at a TRC hearing, the teenage daughter of one of the victims was asked: would you be able to forgive the people who did this to you and your family? She answered, “We would like to forgive, but we would just like to know who to forgive.” How fantastic to see this young girl, still human despite all efforts to dehumanise her.”