Recently, I happened upon this short video clip in my YouTube feed, which detailed the story of a woman named Mary Johnson, whose only son was murdered after a fight at a party, by 16 year-old Oshea Israel. Mary was heartbroken and ‘full of hatred.’
Israel was convicted of second-degree murder and went to prison, serving a 25-year sentence. Meanwhile, Mary began to feel that she couldn’t move on unless she took action in some way. So she decided to visit her son’s killer in prison, speaking to him like a stranger she wanted to get to know.
In the interview here, Mary talks about the first time that she hugged ‘the man who killed her son,’ and the experience she had of letting go of all the hatred and anger that she had been carrying around. Oshea too, who has now been released from prison and lives as a neighbour to Mary, talks about how forgiveness allows you to ‘starve the pain’ that you’ve been feeding with hatred and bitterness.
Mary’s story is pretty incredible. Even more incredible though, is the fact that she isn’t alone in her decision to forgive someone who did something that broke her world into pieces. ‘The Forgiveness Project’ on YouTube has a playlist full of stories like Mary’s; stories of people who not only forgave, but went on to become neighbours, friends and employers of those who had wronged them so horribly.
I mentioned this video to a friend, who said that there was no way she’d be able to forgive something like this. She viewed forgiveness as weakness – giving in at a time when you should be angry. How could you befriend someone who killed your son? How could you disrespect his memory like that?
But I see this as strength.
It’s much easier to remain angry and bitter. This would be the most natural feeling in the world. Yet, it takes a huge amount of courage to forgive someone who has taken something so precious from you; something that you’ll never replace.
Really though, this is beside the point. The main issue for me can be summed up in a quote from Mark Twain:
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
I can’t imagine going through a situation like this, and I’ve honestly no idea if I would be able to react in the same forgiving way that Mary did.
But I ‘get’ it.
For people like Mary, it’s about moving on. It’s about self-preservation. It’s about unburdening yourself of the heavy weight of hatred and spite. It’s about getting one good thing out of a terrible situation. As hard as this might be, the alternative is far worse.
Mary’s example here is pretty extreme. And hopefully, we won’t find ourselves in the kind of situation whereby we need to exercise this kind of mercy.
But there are opportunities for forgiveness all around us each day.
Each day we can make a decision to forgive the rude sales assistant; the guy that cuts us up at the roundabout; the so-called-friend that specialises in back-handed complements; the colleague who is always late.
Forgiveness isn’t about being a doormat; it doesn’t mean that you can’t be assertive and call someone out for behaving badly.
But it stops you from carrying around the acid that’s eating away at your insides.
Have you been able to forgive? Can you forgive the big things along with the small? Thoughts welcome: