85. A Precious Gift

85. A Precious Gift

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

A Precious Gift

Yes, this is what good is: to forgive evil. There is no other good.

~Antonio Porchia, Voices

I wanted to spit on him. I wanted to spray spittle across his face, since I was unable to spew the venom that overflowed my heart. I wanted to shriek and hiss about what the assailant had done to my best friend’s son—because of him, an entire family was shattered.

No, my friend told me. She insisted that was not the way to go.

Two years earlier, Darice’s youngest son had been startled by a home intruder. In the struggle over the gun, three bullets ended up in Aaron; the slug that the surgeons left there remained in more ways than one. Too close to his spine, physically, it was going to stay there forever. And it was a constant reminder of that awful morning, because from that day on, Aaron was a paraplegic.

During the first year following the shooting, the focus was on rehabilitation and renovation. While Aaron was learning how to drive with hand controls and getting quite skilled with his wheelchair, his family and friends painted walls and scrubbed tile and planted bushes around a new home for Aaron and his wife. Unable to forget that awful morning, they had to get a fresh start if there was any hope of continuing their lives without constant nightmares. Unable to do the complicated jobs—like creating a wheelchair accessible shower stall or installing lower sinks—I dug up unwanted bushes, cleaned out the garage and painted. And while an army of loved ones donated their time and effort, Aaron scooted along the floor as he painted the lower sections of the house and helped install laminate floors.

During the next year, the focus was on what Aaron had not lost. Becoming paralyzed had not affected his sunny disposition. He still had a dazzling smile and could still make strangers warm up to him with his easy, friendly style. Aaron still had a zest for life. He filled his weekends with wheelchair basketball tournaments and volunteering with other disabled people. He also finished his college graduate work and rolled across the stage to get his master’s degree.

And for most of those two years, the young man who had shot Aaron was in jail awaiting a hearing. A few months after he’d broken into Aaron’s home, the intruder turned himself in to the police. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Before the young man had surrendered to the authorities, only the immediate family could visit Aaron in the hospital, which eventually became the rehab center. Wanting to be supportive of Darice, I’d go to the hospital and call my friend, who would come down to the lobby and chat for a few minutes. Now that the felon was safely behind bars, I finally was allowed to go upstairs to his room. There was my friend’s son—surrounded by a circle of laughing friends—popping wheelies in his wheelchair and cracking jokes.

Once Aaron was released, he and his wife settled into their new home and things seemed good. Darice and James got their son a van retrofitted with hand controls. Aaron was having trouble finding a job, as were most kids in their mid-twenties, so he started volunteering at a disability center. They had gotten their home decorated the way they wanted—the only thing that stood between them and closure was hearing a judge say, “You’re guilty and now you’re going to prison,” to the man who almost killed Aaron.

As the court date got closer, I was insistent. “Darice, I’ll take the day off work to sit next to you,” but she wasn’t even sure if she was going to go. Seeing the young man who had tried to end Aaron’s life in person, having to watch him stand up and walk around while her own son would never walk again—she didn’t know if she’d be able to handle it.

The day of sentencing passed—apparently it was rescheduled, but Aaron didn’t tell his mother until the day before. He also was having trouble deciding if he would attend, already dealing with too many bad memories. The last time he had seen this guy, the two of them were in a life-or-death struggle over a pistol. Seeing him again—would it bring some closure or open old wounds?

The day of the sentencing Aaron, his mother and his father were there. When the young man spoke to the judge about how sorry he was, he spoke so quietly Aaron had to wheel right up behind him to hear. When Darice and James were given a chance to say something in the courtroom, they sat there silently, unable to put into words how their world had crashed down upon them that spring morning.

And when Darice met the intruder’s mother in the courthouse hallway, she hugged her… and both women cried.

Darice told me later that evening about the hearing. “Why didn’t you tell me, Darice? I would have gone with you.” She explained she hadn’t decided until the last minute.

When I heard what had happened, I asked, “How could you? How could you embrace that kid’s mother? Why didn’t you get angry?”

Looking down at her folded hands, Darice said, “We both lost part of our boys on the day that Aaron was shot. My son lost the ability to walk, but her son is going to lose most of his youth because he’s going to be in prison for a long time.”

All the words in the world spoken by either woman couldn’t alter the facts, but a tearful embrace between mothers spoke volumes. I realized that wanting to spit and shriek prevented me from moving forward. Darice had given herself the gift of forgiveness, and now she was able to move on with her life. Now, she could celebrate what her son still had—and all that he had never lost.

Forgiveness. It’s a precious gift to give to yourself.

~Sioux Roslawski

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