81. An Orchard of Forgiveness

81. An Orchard of Forgiveness

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

An Orchard of Forgiveness

All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness… the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.

~Dalai Lama

A wave of memories and emotions swept over me as I wandered the apple orchard. I had come face to face with one of my greatest fears within the walls of the orchard store. Nothing had prepared me to look into the eyes of the man who had permanently altered virtually every aspect of my son’s wellbeing when he violently shook him.

It had been eight years since we had presented our victim impact statement at his sentencing in the district courthouse. On that day, he was taken into custody to serve a limited prison sentence for the felony charge of shaking my son. My son faced a lifetime sentence of severe and profound disability. I didn’t view this as justice.

I thought back to the day prior to Ryan’s shake when he proudly showed off his new crawling skills. I bubbled with pride as I watched him explore his new mobility. The next day, I saw the same child suffering from a traumatic brain injury, locked in a coma, and living only by virtue of a miracle, extensive brain surgery, and a ventilator. The days and nights in the pediatric intensive care unit were long and brutal as I watched for signs of life amid all of the sensors, lines, and monitors.

On top of that, my husband and I were being investigated for causing his injury and already convicted by the staff of a crime we didn’t commit. Meanwhile, the perpetrator, a once loved and trusted daycare provider, protected his own self-interest and refused to admit guilt.

In time, Ryan awoke from his coma. Around the same time, we were ruled out as suspects. The journey of parenting a medically fragile, quadriplegic, cognitively delayed, nonverbal child began. When we took Ryan home from the hospital, his head control was that of an infant, he could not move any of his limbs, and he was fed through a g-tube. He was neurologically agitated and experienced grand mal and complex partial seizures with a frightening regularity that took away all sense of calm and control. We did not feel equipped to handle the magnitude of his care, yet we had no choice. By the grace of God and the assistance of very skilled and supportive medical, therapeutic, and educational communities, we not only survived but thrived as a family. Ryan was our inspiration. We were continually encouraged by his grace, perseverance, and positive disposition.

An integral part of our family journey involved the grief process and anger resolution. We knew early on that we could not hold ourselves hostage to our own victimization. The crime committed against our son could never be undone. In order to promote a healthy and loving environment for Ryan, we had to let go of what happened and focus on how we could provide the best possible life for Ryan. Focusing on what could have been only caused pain and regret. Living the life presented to us to the fullest was the healthiest and happiest way to live.

Forgiveness occurred early on. My faith encouraged it, and the ability to move on demanded it. Simply, I needed to forgive to live. I did not want to raise Ryan in a fabric woven with anger, hate, and resentment. Forgiveness paved the way for hope, joy, and immense love. Forgiveness did not lessen the wrongness or impact of the act, but Ryan deserved a positive life and a mom who focused on the beauty of the person he was instead of the devastation that permanently changed him.

Returning to the apple orchard, I strolled among the trees to catch my breath, revisit the memories, find my balance, and pray. Once centered, I returned to the orchard store where I saw him again. This time I smiled and waited in the wings while he and his wife carried on a conversation with the orchard owner. He shared happy memories of visiting the orchard as a child and the continued annual tradition of returning to his roots.

The ease and simple pleasure with which he spoke indicated that he, too, had moved on from that dark day. He had rebuilt a life filled with new hopes and dreams. He had served his time in prison, struggled to find employment as a convicted felon, divorced his first wife, and lost all visitation rights with the daughters who were his world when we knew him. As a man of faith, I have no doubt that he probably faced his own demons of guilt and sadness for the crime committed. For the first time since the shake, I saw the man we had so carefully chosen to be the caregiver to our son. I was able to look beyond the betrayal and pain and see the qualities that initially made us believe that he was a faithful, kind, and nurturing individual. As I watched, I did not seek to make myself known. It wasn’t my place to guide the moment. It was time to let “our” story rest.

Unexpectedly seeing our former daycare provider at the apple orchard was a test of the authenticity of my forgiveness. It was important to realize that it was genuine. I do believe that we are all capable of facing life’s unpredictable but defining moments with grace when we allow love and compassion to be our guide.

I have no doubt that Ryan would not have stopped at a smile. He would have said “hi” and fully embraced the moment with his abundant grace and unconditional love. While I could not go that far, I realized that I did not begrudge the man a good life. I believe that our lives were meant to cross paths in that moment for the sake of healing, but I also acknowledged that he will never be a part of our lives moving forward. I have forgiven, but I will never forget. I will, however, continue to live life in God’s ongoing promise of hope and joy, displayed in the daily affirmation of my son’s beautiful smile.

~Kirsten Corrigan

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