The Boy They Couldn’t Kill

Go read Sports Illustrated’s “The Boy They Couldn’t Kill.” It is far and away the best magazine story I’ve read all year and I’m pleased that we get to talk about it here at GetReligion. It’s long and I can’t begin to excerpt it in any way that gives it justice but the subhed to the piece is “Thirteen years ago, NFL receiver Rae Carruth conspired to kill his pregnant girlfriend and their unborn son. The child has not only survived but thrived—thanks to the unwavering love of his grandmother.”

The extremely talented Thomas Lake begins his story:

The English language has a million words, but only one for the two kinds of forgiveness. This is a major failure. The two kinds may be similar at the molecular level but they are far removed in magnitude. Like a candle flame and a volcano, an April shower and a hurricane, a soft tremor beneath your feet and the great San Francisco earthquake.

The first kind of forgiveness is the easy kind. Someone wounds you, and in time this offender comes to see what he has done. He returns to lay the crime at your feet. And when you reach down to pull him up a sort of charge passes between you, a cleansing force that refreshes both souls.

Candle flame and volcano. The second kind of forgiveness is a rare occurrence that becomes rarer as the crime grows more severe. In this case the offender gives nothing. He never comes to you. And when you go to him, he turns you away. This leaves you alone with your open wound and a solitary choice. No one will blame you either way. But the wound is yours to keep, or let go, and that choice may plot the course for the rest of your life.

We meet Saundra Adams, the grandmother. We learn her story, about her character, about the baby she got pregnant with when she was just a teenager. She made sacrifices to provide for that girl, Cherica Adams. She got a psychology degree from UNC-Charlotte, a job at IBM. She raised Cherica in Charlotte. Cherica grew up fast and lived fast, we’re told. She met Rae Carruth and got pregnant with his child.

There’s a lot to dig through here. And you really need to read it yourself for the full effect.

We get a sordid, horrifying and compelling account of how Cherica was murdered. And how her son survived. It’s riveting. The 9-1-1 call Cherica made after being mortally wounded is just amazing. Seventy minutes after she was shot, Chancellor Lee Adams was born via emergency C-section. Needless to say, he came very close to dying himself.

Carruth, somewhat inexplicably, engages in a legal battle for his son. I’m making a very long story short by putting it that way. Many tears, many dollars, many years were spent fighting for this boy.

Let me give just an example of how religion is seamlessly woven into this story:

Saundra prayed for Chancellor’s safety. She had a King James Bible, a gift from her mother more than 20 years earlier, cover held together with tape, and it told her that the shield of faith would quench the fiery darts of the wicked. She prayed some more. And she found peace.

Other reporters take note. We learn a lot about Chancellor’s condition and his struggles with cerebral palsy. We’re told that the reporter gets to meet him and his grandmother at a TGIFriday’s. We learn how delicately the grandmother explains the circumstances of his birth to the young man. She puts the best possible construction on everything. It’s amazing.

The framework for the story is, obviously, forgiveness. And that theme is revisited time and time again. It’s worth reading. We learn that Chancellor’s father declined to be interviewed for this story but we also hear from him and his version of events, so to speak. We learn about Chancellor’s relationships with other people, from his godmother to his physical therapist.

We learn that Chancellor has inherited some athletic ability or will from his father.  Another snippet:

She could have filled him with hate, for his father and his Carruth blood; or anger, for the loss of his mother; or bitterness, for the loss of who he could have been. She filled him with something more powerful. He hardly ever cried as a baby, so quick was she to feed him and hold him and change his diapers, and as time went on he seemed to cry only for others. He would cry if one child hit another child, or at the suffering of a movie character, or when his godmother had a nosebleed. When G-Mom had food poisoning, so severe she had to crawl along the floor, there he was, crawling beside her.

She taught him that the rain was a shower of God’s blessing, and he believed her, so that when his schoolmates ran inside to stay dry he just stood there and let it fall on him. She taught him that he could do anything, that he had no limits, even though a neurologist told her he would never walk or talk, and now of course he can do both. He can ride horses. He started sixth grade at the end of August. He makes his bed and cleans his room without being told. He wakes up smiling and goes to sleep smiling and in between he looks like the happiest person in the world.

And then it all builds up to this. The reporter is trying to see a bit of the family home. The grandmother declines. She says:

“I’m not gonna have anything negative to say about him,” she says. “I thank him for my grandson. I thank him for my grandson.”

here is a long silence.

“After what you’ve lost,” you say.

“Like I say,” she says, “you can focus on what you’ve lost or what you have left. So I didn’t lose. I have my grandson. I have my daughter with me in my heart, always. I have her with me through Lee. So I don’t focus on loss. I mean, I think she’s in Heaven, with God, so that’s definitely not a loss. So I’ve got a lot left, and a lot of hope left, and a lot to live for, and to be able to help my grandson to become the wonderful man he’s meant to be. I haven’t lost anything.

“Really, I’ve gained. I’ve been pushed into my role and destiny.”

And this is the point at which I was just sobbing uncontrollably. There’s more, including a powerful ending, but I had never seen a reporter show Christian forgiveness quite like this before. It was so beautifully told. Such a great magazine-length piece. Have you read it? You really need to read it.

  • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ Christian

    I read this in my copy of SI last week, and just yesterday was talking about it with my wife. As a general rule, SI’s writing is substantial, and the human content is often compelling.

  • Jerry

    That’s quite some story. Thanks for sharing it.

  • jerry lynch

    I teared up just with your summary. The poignant majesty of that woman’s heart is easily amongst the greatest sagas ever told of courage and strength, dignity and honor. Yet such a tale is distantly appreciated by most. Or maybe I am projecting. As truly praiseworthy and profoundly wondrous her forgiveness, it seems a little off to me, lacking in “real” humanity. My mind knows this is true greatness I am reading but this other part of me can’t quite connect with it. It is like an action movie where at the end there is no slaughter of the bad guys, no sweet and just revenge but rather a hug. “What? I paid good money for this?”

    There is another piece, at least for me: embarrassment. Could I do the same? and I quietly know, though can’t quite admit, the answer is “No.” A tension. I want to believe I have that same heart and at the same time I am not certain I want it. The whole episode is so decidedly unjust and unfair, crying out reasonably and it seems rightly, for evening the score somehow, to forgive appears a weakness.
    This is something I really need to sit with for awhile. Thank you for your lovely and challenging piece.

    • SK

      I agree with you. Redemption on some level felt incomplete without revenge/vengeance/kicking the bad guy/beating him or some sort of suffering to redeem himself for the pain caused.I think the disconnect is partly because of my jaded cynicism and the fact that a child’s death would, unfortunately not lead to such overwhelming forgiveness on my part.

  • http://www.thediscernmentfiles.blogspot.com David Rosenkoetter

    It’s not often we read such touching and positive pieces as this one. You’re right. It highlights forgiveness amid obvious struggles and suffering.

    Especially, we Lutherans who make much mention of the theology of the cross see it portrayed in this article.

    • Devadhas Muthiah SJ

      A moving life history where one experiences forgiveness personified. Grandma is wonderful and she teaches me the meaning of unconditional forgiveness. Thank you very much for giving me lesson to pracise in my life.

  • TeaPot562

    This lady is a model of forgiveness, to be a source of inspiration for those who profess Christianity. The gospel of Matthew (Ch. 18, v. 21-35) describes an example where a king forgives a debt equivalent to sixty thousand YEARS wages at the then minimum wage, and the beneficiary of this act does NOT forgive a fellow servant who owes him fifty DAYS wages at the minimum wage.
    We cannot pay God back for the times we have disobeyed His commands (sin); therefore we must forgive others who wrong us. We risk condemnation if we fail to forgive others.
    TeaPot562

    • http://www.thediscernmentfiles.blogspot.com David Rosenkoetter

      More than showing us a model of what we do with forgiveness, though, the original article shows that such a message does resonate with the major media types.

      The question that I have is whether the sentiment of the story, the outcome of the personages involved, or a need to balance perceived negativity led the writer to include it in a major newspaper. What affective factors can be both balanced in religious media coverage and present similar stories of forgiveness. They do exist, after all. It seems to me that most personal news stories such as this usually appear in the local press. I imagine that the contrast between the sports star gone tragic and the mercy of his relatives makes for a wide appeal.

      Nonetheless, we are blessed with the media’s coverage of forgiveness in action.

  • Sarah M

    Thank you for sharing this. I don’t usually read SI and would have never found it without your recommendation.

  • Johsua

    What a great story to read this Sunday morning. Thank you. Her faith and love just radiates out of her and thanks to your great writing, this faith and love touches the reader. Great job.

  • Jay

    This is an amazing story of forgiveness. But in some ways, it suffers a little from New Journalism — it’s about crafting the story, rather than telling the story, and leaves some gaps in the explanation.

    I actually liked this local story better — and it did a better job on the faith of Saundra Adams:

    http://clclt.com/charlotte/remembering-infamy-the-life-and-crimes-of-rae-carruth-andmdash-10-years-later/Content?oid=2154359

    • mollie

      That was also a great story. Thanks for sharing, Jay.

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