77. Silencing the Boom

77. Silencing the Boom

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

Silencing the Boom

It’s not an easy journey, to get to a place where you forgive people. But it is such a powerful place, because it frees you.

~Tyler Perry

I woke from a September nap to a voice on the radio. “George Russell Weller has not been charged with a crime,” the National Public Radio commentator said. Two months earlier, the eighty-six-year-old man had confused the gas pedal for the brake and sped through the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. He struck seventy-three people. Ten pedestrians died. I suffered severe injuries: multiple fractures, a ruptured spleen and a brain injury.

The commentator was interviewing an eighty-nine-year-old man who admitted he did not do well on the written test in a recent driver’s safety class, but would continue driving. “I’ve been driving for seventy-five years and I’ve been careful,” he said. “It’s other people’s turn, let them be careful.” I glared at the radio’s red blinking light as if I could stun the arrogance out of the old man’s grating voice.

His disregard for the tragedy ignited my resentment toward Russell Weller. If he hadn’t been driving, I’d still be working as a nurse. But in order to return to nursing, I had to focus my energy on healing. So I let my resentment ferment.

Six years later, it still fermented. I unearthed the news articles I had collected about Russell Weller, hoping to discover something that would allay my resentment. I read a bystander’s account of what he heard at the scene: boom, boom, boom. Metal slamming into people. I desperately wanted to forgive Russell Weller, otherwise boom, boom, boom would continue to haunt me. But I didn’t know how to forgive him. How do you forgive someone you’ve never met?

The more I read about Russell Weller, the more confused I felt. A reporter quoted him saying, “If you saw me coming, why didn’t you get out of the way?” Why would someone who mowed down a bunch of people say that? Other articles referenced his friends’ claims that he was a gentle and concerned person. His attorney said his client was “deeply sorry.” My eyes stung from all the reading, from all the searching for answers as to why Russell Weller had been driving when he had a history of accidents. I wanted to ask him why he had insisted on driving to the post office that day to mail a letter, rather than listening to his wife, who begged him to stay home and wait for the postman to pick it up.

I realized I couldn’t forgive Russell Weller by reading words on paper. I needed to see him in person, up close. I needed to hear a genuine apology from Russell Weller.

I decided I would return to Santa Monica with my husband to visit Russell Weller. I had tried calling him, but his number was disconnected. I called his pastor, who asked his family for permission for us to meet. They said he was too ill. I believed them, but I did not give up. I called a private investigator. “If you insist on going to his house you should hire a police escort,” he advised.

On Valentine’s Day, my husband and I rolled up to Russell Weller’s house. I couldn’t think of a better day to forgive him. I cautiously walked up the long driveway to the front door, holding a sweetheart rose plant. I crouched down and placed the plant on the step. I did not leave a note. I believed Russell Weller would know that the plant came from me. As I stood up, I glimpsed bright red letters pasted across the black mailbox: NO SOLICITORS.

I ran back to the car, my heart pounding. “You did it!” my husband yelled. Tears fell down my cheeks. “Do you think you can let go now?” he asked.

“I don’t know.” I wished I could have said yes. I wished I could have said I forgave Russell Weller.

Ten months later he died.

The boom, boom, boom still haunted me. I tried convincing myself that I had forgiven him. I told my therapist it was an accident, and that Russell Weller must have suffered too. I told family and friends that I had forgiven him. “You’re so strong,” a friend said. “I’m not sure I could forgive someone who brought so much harm to so many people.”

A year passed, and I still struggled to truly forgive Russell Weller. After coaxing from a friend, I called the head deputy of The Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. Within a week, I received a videotape of Russell Weller speaking to police investigators one hour after the crash.

I slid the disc into the DVD player. Silver specks blotted the screen for many seconds before he shuffled, with his cane, into the fluorescent-lit room. He sat down, tapped his cane and picked at his bruised arm—the only injury he sustained in the accident. He scanned the faded white walls, then gazed at the peeling ceiling. He raised his arm up and said, “Can you imagine?” Who did he think he was addressing?

An investigator walked into the room, and Russell Weller immediately said, “I’ll tell you everything that happened.” He spoke with urgency, as if he needed to make sure the investigator knew the accident wasn’t his fault. He did not cry. Somehow, crying leads you to believe that someone is truly sorry so I wished he had cried. He spoke about his work as a food broker, and his time served in Korea. Shouldn’t he have asked about the pedestrians he had rammed into an hour earlier? I found myself disliking him. Then he looked straight ahead, his voice loud and clear, and said, “All of a sudden the car accelerated.” It was as if he believed the car was to blame. His speech slowed, and his southwestern twang lowered to a whisper: “I’m in trouble with my heart and soul.” I scooted closer to the television. A long moan rose from his throat. “God almighty, those poor, poor people. What a tragic ending, and I contributed to it.”

In that moment, I forgave Russell Weller.

More than a decade later, I still feel the swelling on his bruised arm. I still hear sorrow seep from the steady tap of his cane.

But I do not hear, boom, boom, boom.

~Melissa Cronin

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