Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | September 18, 2004

A few thoughts on forgiveness

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” ~ Paul Boese

Between the news and opinion sections of the newspaper and fractured relationships among some people close to me, forgiveness has been very much on my mind recently.

Perhaps you remember the story of Nicholas Green, the 7-year-old California boy who was shot and killed during a highway robbery in 1994 in Italy while he was vacationing with his family.

Despite their tragic and unexpected loss, Nicholas’ family held no bitterness. Rather, his parents donated their son’s organs and corneas, which were given to seven Italians waiting for transplants.

The Green’s decision to embrace forgiveness instead of hatred had an amazing impact on organ donation in Italy. Dubbed “the Nicholas effect,” their unselfish decision caused the number of people registering to become organ donors in Italy to quadruple and the number of organ donations to triple.

For more information about Nicholas Green and organ donation, visit the Nicholas Green Foundation.

***

“The only thing harder than forgiveness is the alternative.” ~ Author Philip Yancey

Eleven years ago, Amy Biehl, a 26-year-old American working to register South Africans to vote as apartheid ended, was brutally stoned and stabbed to death. Her killers were sent to prison, but Amy’s parents shocked the world when they asked for amnesty for their daughter’s murderers.

As a result, the two young men who committed this horrific murder were set free after a few years behind bars. They now work for a foundation established in Amy’s memory. Their story is a testament to the power of forgiveness.

Here’s what Amy’s father wrote about what some see as his startling and remarkable ability to forgive: “We grieve our loss, yet forgiveness has freed us. We can honour our daughter, we can remain true to her convictions, and we can carry on her work. Forgiving is liberating. By contrast, it seems to us that hatred consumes tremendous energy — negative energy — and robs people of their productivity.”

For more information about Amy Biehl Foundation Trust and the power of forgiveness, visit www.amybiehl.org.

***

“It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” ~ Artist William Blake

According to news reports, late last month a Georgia man was allegedly driving drunk with his friend. His friend, who police say was also drunk, was sticking his head out the passenger window. When the driver swerved, the passenger was decapitated by a telephone pole support wire.

But the story gets more macabre. Police say the driver continued driving 12 miles to his home and slept in his bloody clothes while his friend’s lifeless, headless body protruded from his pickup truck in the driveway. A man out for a walk with his infant daughter the next morning came upon the gruesome scene and called police.

Incredibly, the family of the dead man have sought reduced bail for the driver.

“They don’t want to see him in jail,” the victim’s family attorney told reporters about the driver. “Their position is he needs to be out to receive whatever treatment is necessary, put his life back together.”

This week the driver – who has been charged with first-degree vehicular homicide, driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident – was released from jail pending trial after his bond was reduced from $100,000 to $50,000, thanks in large part to the pleas of the dead man’s family.

***

“Forgiveness is the economy of the heart… Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits.” ~ Philanthropist Hannah More

I beg my readers’ indulgence for veering from my usual political topics to the philosophical this week. I hope I’ve at least managed to avoid being preachy. When a topic is waking me up at night, as the subject of forgiveness has been recently, it’s hard to avoid it when my weekly column is due.

In my four decades, I’ve had to ask forgiveness of others for my offenses and forgive my share of offenders, although, thankfully, never for something that resulted in someone’s death. I fervently hope I’m never on either side of that situation.

But I have seen firsthand how the inability to forgive oneself and others has poisoned the life of someone I love and the lives of those closest to this person.

Perhaps these stories of extraordinary acts of forgiveness will inspire South Valley residents to forgive those who have trespassed against them, if not for the offenders’ sakes, then for their own.

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