Does forgiving help us to keep going?

Do you remember this terrible story, wherein a couple lost five of their children in a collision?

Deacon Greg links to an inspiring conclusion to that terrible story.

Now, more than two years after the accident, Mr. Helm has been acquitted on charges of vehicular homicide. Mr. Schrock says he has accepted that he may never know exactly what happened or why. He also says he has a friend he did not have before, Mr. Helm.

“The primary bond there is the accident,” Mr. Schrock said. “We’re both injured by that, physically and mentally.”
Friendship under such circumstances is complicated, Mr. Schrock said, like pretty much everything else that has happened since the accident. For him, the challenge has been to forgive Mr. Helm without expecting resolution, and to build a friendship regardless of the forces working against it.

This reminds me of a story here on Long Island, where a teenager who was goofing around, stupidly, threw a frozen turkey at a moving car and nearly destroyed a woman’s face, and how that turned out:

Surgeons, who rebuilt her face using metal plates and screws, said the impact might have caused lasting brain damage. But prosecutors say that Ms. Ruvolo’s recovery has been remarkable and that she is once again back at work and living on her own.

Accompanied by several friends and relatives, Ms. Ruvolo, a 44-year-old office manager, came to court wearing a black pantsuit and a gold cross on a chain for her first face-to-face meeting with Mr. Cushing.

Stopping to speak to her on his way out of the courtroom, Mr. Cushing choked on an apology and began to cry. For an intensely emotional few minutes, Ms. Ruvolo alternately embraced him tightly, stroked his face and patted his back as he sobbed uncontrollably.

Many of the two dozen people in court – prosecutors, court officers and reporters – choked back tears.

“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” Mr. Cushing said over and over again. “I didn’t mean it.” Most of their exchange was whispered, but at one point Ms. Ruvolo’s advice to him was just barely audible.

“It’s O.K., it’s O.K.,” she said. “I just want you to make your life the best it can be.”

And we saw this sort of heroic forgiveness among the Amish after their children were slaughtered.

I was at Adoration earlier today and wondering about saints and heroes, and whether it is “easier” sometimes to be a “hero” when things are clearly one or the other – good or bad, black or white – than when things are ambiguous and blurred as so much is, in our age. And I wondered too whether it’s easier to be merciful, when a hurt against you is huge and very, very clear, when it is a “hurt” that you know is going to be with you every day for the rest of your life…maybe when it’s that crystaline – so obvious that you don’t need Oprah or Dr. Phil to tell you you’ve been hurt – you have to forgive or you can’t move on, either. Maybe if you can’t forgive…you kill your own spirit.

I hope I never have to find that out for sure.

Related: The Mystery of Forgiveness
Mea Culpa has its values

About Elizabeth Scalia
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  • Bender B. Rodriguez

    Whether it is easier to forgive the big things or the little things, this much is clear, sometimes it is fairly easy for us to forgive — but sometimes it is, for all practical purposes, impossible for us to forgive. Some hurts are just too large, some injuries are just too great (or sometimes we allow ourselves to get so self-centered that even little injuries seem great) that it is impossible for us to forgive.

    Or, perhaps I should say that it is impossible for us to forgive.

    But, as we shall soon see at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit allows us to do the impossible. Not only did it allow the weak and terrified Apostles to come out of hiding and bravely and loudly proclaim the Gospel, not only does it allow the persecuted, such as Perpetua and Felicity, to gladly endure the suffering of martyrdom — something that otherwise would be unthinkable and not humanly possible — the grace of the Holy Spirit allows us to what we otherwise could not humanly do, including that which is perhaps the most impossible thing to do at times — forgive the unforgiveable, forgive the debt that can never be paid.

    One of the best examples of this is described in “Left to Tell,” by Immaculee Ilibagiza, who survived the Rwandan genocide while the rest of her family was hacked to death, along with hundreds of thousands of others. Eventually, the man who had led the group that killed members of her family was caught, and the jailer who held him allowed Immaculee to confront him (and take her revenge).

    But, as the murderer knelt before her, she “wept at the sight of his suffering. Felicien had let the devil enter his heart, and the evil had ruined his life like cancer in his soul. He was now the victim of his victims, destined to live in torment and regret. I was overwhelmed with pity for the man.” And when the jailer shouted at the killer and hauled him to his feet, Immaculee touched his hands lightly and quietly said, “I forgive you.”

    The jailer was stunned and furious. After the killer was dragged out, he said, “What was that all about, Immaculee? That was the man who murdered your family. I brought him to you to question . . . to spit on if you wanted to. But you forgave him! How could you do that? Why did you forgive him?” In her book she says that she “answered him with the truth: ‘Forgiveness is all I have to offer.’”

    But the forgiveness she gave did not come entirely from Immaculee. As she says in the Introduction, her book “is the story of how I discovered God during one of history’s bloodiest holocausts.” And this discovery, this lesson, forever changed her. “It is a lesson that, in the midst of mass murder, taught me how to love those who hated and hunted me — and how to forgive those who slaughtered my family.”

    Forgiveness is sometimes easy for us, but sometimes it is impossible for us. Some crimes are simply too great. But God gives us the power to do the impossible.