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.