Of Forgiveness and Remembrance

FYI: MCQ is guest-posting with us for the next couple of weeks. He’s brilliant and witty in every way.

In February of this year, a friend of mine, Chris, who is the bishop of his ward, lost his wonderful wife, Michelle (who was near to delivering their fifth child) and two of his young children when their car was struck by a 17 year old boy who was driving drunk. This horrific accident happened not on some distant freeway with cars whizzing by at high speed but on a normal street just a few miles from where I live.

Compounding the tragedy is that the drunk driver was a boy who lived in Michelle’s parent’s ward and whose family was well known to them. This boy had recently received his Eagle Scout award. His family members are good members of the church and the community. In other words: not a monster, just a troubled kid who made a horrible mistake which will have permanent consequences.

A few days after this awful event, several people were killed when a young man entered Trolley Square, a local shopping mall, and randomly shot members of the public with a shotgun. Most of the victims, and eventually the shooter himself, died just steps from the precise spot where my wife and I first met and where we were subsequently engaged. Trolley Square has always been a special place to me, but my feelings about it now will never be the same.

As you can see, for me these tragedies struck very close to home and that fact, coupled with their close proximity in time and the seeming randomness of the manner in which they occurred, made me feel that these events could easily have happened to anyone. My reaction to them was mostly shock and disbelief. I still have trouble believing that they actually happened and that they happened so close by.

When I visited Chris in the hospital the day after the collision that killed most of his family I got another shock. Chris was, possibly, the cheeriest person in the hospital that day. He was walking around, broken ribs and all, tending to the injuries of the only other person in his car that lived through the accident, his six year old son, Sam. I will never forget how he tried to cheer us up and how he looked at us with tears in his eyes and said, in all seriousness, “I just feel so blessed.” The grief counselor at the hospital did not know what to make of Chris; he was completely outside their experience.

Chris later related how he had decided, while he was still trapped in his shattered car (knowing already that most of his family was gone) that he would forgive the drunk driver. After spending the night in prayer at the hospital with his oldest son, Michael (who was not in the car that night) his first action the next morning was to ask that the 17 year old drunk driver be placed on the prayer roll at the temple.

Almost as shocking to me were the actions of the victims of the insane shooting at Trolley square and their families and friends and neighbors showed great love and forgiveness toward the perpetrator of that evil crime and his family. The parents of the young man who conducted this random act of violence received literally hundreds of cards and letters from people who wanted them to know that there was no blame directed at them. One person donated frequent flier miles so that these parents could fly with the body of their son to their home country in Eastern Europe for his burial. One woman, who was terribly injured in the shooting and whose teenage daughter was killed, said the following upon her release from the hospital: “I refuse to harbor anger, that’s the exact opposite of the life I want to reflect.”

These images of peace and forgiveness, by those who could so easily have reacted very differently, are a tremendous example to me. I don’t know, and I hope I will never know, whether I can match their example in a similar situation, but I can try to understand where their peace and their strength come from and to try to honor their example in some small way, by the way I react to the situations that confront me.

What is it that makes it possible for some to find peace and forgiveness within themselves in such terrible situations? I believe it is the infinite Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Atonement is the ultimate example of selflessness and love, and the power of the Atonement can change us personally, make us able to bear burdens we could never have imagined, and make us able to become more like Him who, in completing the Atonement, gave himself as ransom for us all.

As Elder Faust has said:

[When we] forgive those who trespass against us the Atonement brings a measure of peace and comfort to those who have been innocently victimized by the sins of others. The basic source for the healing of the soul is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. This is true whether it be from the pain of a personal tragedy or a terrible national calamity.

This Friday and Saturday, Chris and I and ten more of our friends will run the 178 mile Wasatch Back relay, from Logan to Park City. I am the leadoff runner and Chris is the finishing runner. We are running to raise money for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. We are running to honor and remember a mother and wife and two children who will be desperately missed by their family. We are running to show our friendship and support for a shattered family that we love. We are running to show our respect for the principle of forgiveness. I am also running because of an example of which I stand in awe.

Comments

  1. Truly an inspiration.

    Thanks, McQ.

  2. Sam Kitterman says:

    Agreed and a reminder of what it means to exercise a “christ-like love”, forgiveness without strings.

    Akin to the Amish and their forgiving of the man who killed some of their children in their schoolhouse.

  3. After writing my comment on the other thread about my father, this put me right over the edge. I am typing through tears, and I DEEPLY appreciate this post, MCQ.

    Please give my thanks, if you feel it appropriate, to Chris for being the kind of man I desperately want to become.

  4. I remember Elder Faust mentioning this incident as one of his examples in his April conference talk. I’m awed at this kind of spiritual maturity, which sometimes seems so far beyond me, and I wonder how people become this good. How was he able to do it? How were the Amish and the people in the Trolley Square shooting able to extend this kind of mercy to the family members of those who had so hurt them?

  5. Great post. Forgiveness is something I need to learn more about.

  6. Kristine says:

    I’m telling myself I might have made it through this post without huge messy weeping if there hadn’t been a six-year-old with the same name as my six-year-old…Nah.

    Thanks for reminding us of the big stuff, MCQ. We’ll be cheering for you runners from afar.

  7. Wow, what an amazing story. Thanks so much for posting it. Their love and forgiveness consecrated these terrible events and lifted them all to the level of the divine.

  8. This is a beautiful story.

    The thing about forgiveness is that when one forgives the trespasses of another, it still does not rob justice. What forgiveness does is alleviate the pains and suffering that the victim goes through. The perpetrator still has to face the justice of both man and God.

  9. Antonio Parr says:

    Thank you for this very inspiring post. I was moved by your thoughts, and was reminded of the sacredness of Elder Faust’s conference address on forgiveness, which was one of the great “all-time” moments in General Conference history.

  10. I largely agree with number 8. And would like to add….

    It seems to me that there would be no value in not forgiving the drunk driver for Chris in this case.

    The civil law will run its course and enact justice
    Chris will still be without his wife and dead children
    Chris will still need to raise his still living children

    Chris is doing the right thing and I admire his ability to forgive. I doubt if I would be able to do the same.

  11. Thanks, all, for your kind comments. These experiences have been life-altering for me.

    Sam: The Amish are another perfect example of this principle. Thanks for reminding us of them.

    Ray: I think all of us are trying to be more like Chris.

    Eve: Those are the questions I keep asking, too. I can’t speak for the Amish, but Chris said he made a conscious decision to forgive. I believe it was the Atonement that gave him the ability to follow through on that decision.

    Kristine: Thanks, I’m going to need the cheers to make it to the finish line, but I’m really looking forward to spending a couple days with these guys.

    Dan: I agree completely. Some make the mistake of thinking that forgiveness lets the perpetrator off the hook. It’s important to remember that forgiveness does not free the perpetrator from the consequences of his or her actions, it just frees you from the consequences of hatred and bitterness. It’s also important to remember that we all need forgiveness.

    bbell: You won’t know until you’re there. I hope you never are.

  12. Steve: Thanks for the FYI. I’ll try to live up to it.

  13. Yeah, I forgot to ask you for a bio. If you send me something I’ll add it in. Sorry about that…

  14. MCQ,

    #11,

    Well said. I think when we truly understand the principle of forgiveness we will realize, like you say, that we all really need to forgive, and maybe understand why God requires us to forgive all trespasses against us. Vengeance and Justice are for the Lord to mete out.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    That was a great talk by Elder Faust, which ties a lot of this together. Very nice post, McQ.

  16. Wow. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  17. Melissa De Leon Mason says:

    Beautiful thoughts, MCQ. I’m in awe of the ability to forgive on this level. Elder Faust’s words are comforting and I only hope to have the kind of faith in the power of the Atonement to know that were I in any of these situations I would be able to rise above anger and sadness.

  18. These are beautiful and inspiring stories. However, I am having some difficulty understanding the link between the Atonement and our ability to forgive others. It seems to me that we have, in relativly recent years, begun to speak of the Atonement in far more expansive terms than I see in the scriptures. I have enough trouble understanding why the Atonement was necessary for God to forgive me. I have even more trouble understanding how the Atonement enables me to forgive others, except perhaps as an inspiring example of selfless love which I should strive to emulate. I know of non-believers who also have demonstrated a remarkable ability to love and forgive. How does one who does not even believe in Christ or in the Atonement forgive if it is the Atonement which gives us that ability? Is the heart of even nonbelievers somehow changed by the Atonement, nothwithstanding their lack of belief? Would anybody care to elaborate?

  19. Gary: Excellent questions, and I can’t say that I have the answers. It seems to me that the “how” of the Atonement is one of the greatest mysteries of the plan of salvation. Some thoughts:

    The Atonement does have power even in the lives of non-believers. It overcomes death and gives the resurrection to all, regardless of belief and regardless of their works. If it can do this, it seems to me that it can make available the power to forgive, and other gifts, as well. Is this idea found in the scriptures? Maybe:

    Alma 7:11-12:
    11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
    12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

    Moroni 7:48:
    48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.

    It sems to me that one of the “afflictions” or “infirmities” that Christ took upon himself, was bitterness that comes from failing to forgive. One of the healing powers that the atonement makes available as “succor” is the ability to find peace and forgiveness.

    The Moroni quote seems to imply that these things are available only to his “true followers” but I don’t know how that is defined. Maybe it means anyone who asks.

  20. jothegrill says:

    Gary: I believe the answer to your question is yes, Christ does change the heart of unbelievers. He heals people because he loves them. That is only how I feel though. There is the possibility that the ability to forgive is just a natural survival technique, or that there is some other explanation, but when I feel the love of God strongly in my life, it isn’t because I’m being a totally faithful super-wonderful member of the church, it’s because I need it.

  21. kristine N says:

    thank you for sharing this.

  22. #20,

    Well said indeed.

    Another good reference is Matt 11:28-30

  23. Melinda says:

    Thank you for these thoughts, MCQ. I was awed by Chris’s immediate impulse to forgive the drunk driver as well.

    I’ve thought about how Chris and others affected by tragedy deal with forgiveness longterm. There was a woman in our ward whose daughter was killed in a car accident. Immediately after her death, her mother talked about the feelings of comfort she’d received and her assurance of their eternal sealing. Years later, she was struggling with the sense of injustice and anger from her daughter’s death. She’d been buoyed up in the initial tragedy, but the day to day reminders that her daughter was gone overwhelmed her and she became bitter.

    Every day must be a conscious decision to remain in a state of forgiveness. The bitterness could appear in the future, if not constantly guarded against. Chris has a lifetime of forgiveness ahead of him. Or maybe his decision will mean he won’t struggle as much with those day to day reminders as this woman from my ward did. I don’t know if she consciously decided to forgive the driver that hit them or not.

    I just remember being so impressed with her spiritual strength immediately after the accident, and saddened by her suffering years later. I hope Chris is blessed with the peace of forgiveness in the long term.

  24. #20

    The following scripture graphically illustrates what the spirit world would be like without the Atonement.

    2 Nephi 9:7-9

    I can only think that our mortal lives would be similar without the all-encompassing power of the Atonement on every human life. Because of the Atonement the Light of Christ touches and improves every soul.

  25. Melinda: You’re so right and that’s another reason why re’re doing this relay. Chris and others in such situations need the support of friends and family, not just at the time of such tragedies, but weeks and months and years later. We are all imperfect and have a tendency to backslide without the support and help of friends, family and (especially) the Savior.

  26. Is there a BCC pledge drive going?

  27. Ann: You can contribute to MADD by going to their website at madd.org.

  28. This is remarkable post that reminded me of that remarkable event. The forgiveness shown by a man who lost his family defies reason. We used this story in one of our youth discussions to point out the importance of making correct choices and also the importance of forgiveness. May God bless Chris and his eternal family.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] As I told you a week ago, some friends and I decided to run the 177 mile Wasatch Back Relay from Logan, Utah to Park City, Utah, in an attempt to memorialize and honor the family of my friend Chris and the example of forgiveness that he set for us.  We started Friday at 9:00 am and finished Saturday at about 12:30 pm (in case you can’t tell: that’s not fast).  Chris heroically insisted on running all of his assigned legs despite the fact that (unknown to him prior to Thursday) he had a lingering injury to his knee from his car accident.  He will undergo surgery tomorrow to repair that injury.    [...]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,749 other followers