Not even a day later, this showed up everywhere. My heart feels heavy for everyone involved.
While my upbringing created a moral compass that taught me forgiveness is the higher of roads and nobler of choices, the display of humanity's inclination toward destruction and selfishness we see throughout history, and every day, evokes feelings of futility and Nihilism ("vee believe in nussing Lebowski, nussing") which asks me to challenge whether forgiveness is truly the voice of reason that humans should aspire to, or that echos beyond our graves. But even as my mind doubts the power of forgiveness, seeing the images of the offender in the link above turns my stomach. I'm pretty sure most fathers would have the same reaction this father did. But looking at the aftermath, vengeance also feels wrong.
As we continued to discuss whether forgiveness is the decision that echos longest, my buddy, after back-pedaling on his rage response, mentioned the 2006 attack on an Amish school in Pennsylvania. I hadn't heard of this, for whatever reason, but you can read about it here. Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32 years old, took hostages from a one-room schoolhouse, shot 10 girls, ages 6-13, killing five of them execution style, then committed suicide. The heinous violence sounds like an old-hat story now as since then, from 2006-2013, there have been 115 school shootings, the deadliest taking place in 2007 at Virginia Tech with 33 victims. What set Roberts' attack apart was the outpouring of forgiveness and mercy by the Amish community toward Roberts' family, from the Wikipedia page:
On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, "We must not think evil of this man." Another Amish father noted, "He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he's standing before a just God." Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County, explained: "I don't think there's anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts."A Roberts family spokesman said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Amish community members visited and comforted Roberts' widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts' sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him.The Amish have also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts' funeral, and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims.
Maya Angelou once said "Bitterness is like a cancer, it eats upon the host..." Is forgiveness the key to self-liberation from pain? What does forgiveness look like in situations like the above without a belief system which declares divine judgement is balancing the scales for actions taken in life? Is the Amish response the kind that all us should aspire to? Certainly the family Roberts left behind, who were just as mortified by his actions, benefited from forgiveness. What about when the perpetrator is still alive and well and has yet to meet any sort of judgment, let alone a divine judgement?
No answers, only questions. And that's okay.