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10 Extraordinary Examples Of Forgiveness
According to the old saying, when it comes to forgiveness, we should all forgive and forget. Many can attest to the fact that this is usually easier said than done. While smaller grievances may be easily forgiven, serious transgressions are another story entirely. Many people struggle to forgive a serious wrong done to them and many times feel that the perpetrator does not deserve forgiveness. Those are natural human emotions, but some people just don’t bother with them.
10 Green River Killer
Gary Leon Ridgway is better known as the infamous Green River Killer. In 2003, he confessed to the murders of 48 women. In 2011, Ridgway was convicted of the murder of Rebecca Marrero, bringing the victim count up to 49. By his own confession, he may have murdered as many as 60 women. Ridgway especially despised prostitutes and targeted them for his killings.
At Ridgway’s 2003 sentencing, the families of the victims had the opportunity to speak out and address Ridgway directly. Understandably, many were angry and lashed out at Ridgway for the unimaginable grief he had put them through. As Ridgway stonily listened to the family members express their grief and anger, one person came up and said something unexpected. When the time came for Robert Rule, the father of teenage victim Linda Jane Rule, to speak, Ridgway finally showed a glimpse of remorse.
Rule’s words to Ridgway were: “Mr. Ridgway . . . there are people here that hate you. I’m not one of them. You’ve made it difficult to live up to what I believe, and that is what God says to do, and that’s to forgive. You are forgiven, sir.” These words brought Ridgway to tears.
9 Patricia Machin
In 2011, Patricia Machin lost her husband when he set out to buy the morning paper. Gerrard Machin was doing what he always did, but this time would not return home. Patricia sensed something was wrong and went to look for him. She was greeted by the sight of an ambulance and blood on the ground. Her husband had been struck down by a driver.
The driver, Brian Williamson, was extremely distressed over having hit Gerrard Machin. Patricia Machin, though, felt no anger toward the driver. She knew that the horrible accident had not been intentional, and she harbored no ill will toward Williamson. The sincerity of her forgiveness shone through in a letter she wrote to Williamson that was to be used in his defense. In that letter she wrote, “However bad it was for me, I realize it was 1,000 times worse for you.”
8 Charles C. Roberts
On October 2, 2006, Charles C. Roberts walked into an Amish schoolhouse armed with three guns. There were 26 students in the schoolhouse. He allowed the 15 boys, a pregnant female student, and three other adult females with infant children to leave safely, but held the remaining 15 girls captive and tied their feet together.
His deranged rationale for his actions was that he wanted to exact revenge for something that had happened in his past. Notes that he left behind indicate anger toward himself and God for the death of his newborn daughter almost nine years earlier.
Authorities were alerted, and soon arrived on the scene. Not long after police arrived, Roberts started shooting, killing three children and himself. Two more children died later from their injuries.
In the face of such tragedy, one can only imagine the hurt and anger the loved ones of the victims might feel. In an extraordinary demonstration of forgiveness, members of the Amish community, including family members of the deceased victims, attended Robert’s funeral and comforted his widow. The Amish community did not stop there—they also offered financial support to Robert’s widow.
7 Rachelle Friedman Chapman
Rachelle Friedman Chapman is a young woman who is filled with a zest for life, but she’s had her share of rough times. In 2010, a month before she was going to be married to her fiance, Chris Chapman, a freak accident left her paralyzed from the chest down. Friedman and some of her friends were attending Friedman’s bachlorette party. While hanging out by the pool, Friedman’s girlfriend playfully pushed her into the pool. Tragically, what was meant to be a harmless prank backfired. Friedman plunged headfirst into the shallow end of the pool, fracturing two of her vertebrae.
While Friedman could have sunk into despair and depression, she chose to remain positive. Her fiance stood by her, and they were married one year after the accident.
Did Friedman forgive the friend who pushed her into the pool? The answer is “No, she did not.” As Friedman herself explains, “I know this is hard to believe but I never had to forgive her because I never really blamed her. As I was lying on the side of the pool, I was worried about her.” That’s an amazing woman.
6 Steven McDonald
In 1986, Steven McDonald was a young New York City police officer. While patrolling Central Park, he and his supervisor questioned three teenagers whom they suspected of stealing bicycles. One of the teenagers, 15-year-old Shavod Jones, pulled a gun on McDonald and shot him three times. Doctors were able to save his life, but the incident left him paralyzed and in need of a respirator to breathe. At the time of this heartbreaking event, McDonald and his wife, Patty, had not yet reached their one-year anniversary and were expecting a child.
It was suggested to Mrs. McDonald that she put her husband in a home, but the McDonalds stayed together through thick and thin. In spite of everything that had happened, Steven decided that revenge was not the answer. Rather than hold a grudge, he forgave the boy who shot him. McDonald’s forgiveness of Jones was so complete that he attempted to correspond with Jones while he was in jail serving his sentence. The two men wanted to work together to promote forgiveness and non-violence, but sadly, this was not to be. Only three days after Jones was released from prison, he was killed in a motorcycle accident.
McDonald did fulfill his own mission though, traveling to various speaking engagements to promote forgiveness, peace, and non-violence.
5 Marion Salmon Hedges
Marion Salmon Hedges suffered a severe brain injury after two teenage boys dropped a shopping cart on her head from a fourth-story parking garage in a New York City mall.
In a New York City mall, two teenage boys decided to have a little fun, although their definition of “fun” was definitely not very nuanced. As they were hoisting a shopping cart on to the safety railing on the fourth floor of the parking garage, the cart became stuck. Being persistent, the boys did manage to send it over the edge and plunging down onto one Marion Hedges, who was standing below. The incident left Hedges in a coma and blind in her left eye.
Another boy had tried to stop the first two from carrying out their harmful stunt but was unable to do so. He went for help and cooperated with police in identifying the culprits. (The boy’s actions led to him being called a snitch, and his mother even received death threats, which forced them to relocate.)
In spite of Hedges’ severe injuries, she harbors no bad feelings toward the two boys whose malicious stunt changed her life. True to her charitable nature (Hedges was involved in charity work prior to the incident) she said, “I haven’t heard from them, but I wish them well. I do, because I feel very sorry for them.”
4 Pierce O’Farrill
On July 20, 2012, James Eagan Holmes walked into the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, and opened fire. The senseless tragedy took the lives of 12 people and injured 58 more. Pierce O’Farrill was among the injured, suffering three gunshot wounds. Fortunately, his injuries were not life-threatening, and he was released from hospital a few days later.
While any hate or bitterness he could have felt would have been understandable, O’Farrill chose compassion instead. In reference to Holmes, he said, “Of course, I forgive him with all my heart. When I saw him in his hearing, I felt nothing but sorrow for him.” Six months later, when the theater reopened, O’Farrill went back to the seat he was sitting in on that tragic night, as a form of closure.
3 Corrie Ten Boom
Corrie Ten Boom is a remarkable woman who risked her own life to save the lives of others during the Holocaust. She worked in her family’s business as a watchmaker. After the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Ten Boom and her family became involved with the Resistance, providing shelter for Jews. A false wall was built in her bedroom to provide a hiding place for those seeking shelter.
On February 28, 1944, the Gestapo, on the basis of information obtained through an informant, raided the Ten Boom home and the family was arrested. Those who were hiding in the home at the time were able to avoid detection and escape. Sadly, Ten Boom’s father died a few days after the arrest.
Ten Boom and her sister, Betsy, were deported to the Ravensbrueck concentration camp in September 1944. It was there at Ravensbrueck that Betsy died in December of that same year. Later that same month, Ten Boom narrowly escaped death herself when she was mistakenly released from Ravensbrueck due to a clerical error. Her release came just days before all the women her age were killed.
While at a church service in Munich, she came face-to-face with one of the former Ravensbrueck prison guards. Ten Boom had just delivered a message of God’s forgiveness and the former guard, not recognizing her, asked Ten Boom personally for forgiveness for the atrocities that he had committed. Ten Boom struggled within herself and found that she could not forgive him, but she quickly prayed and found the strength to accept his extended hand.
2 Renee Napier, Phillip And Mary Dickson
Renee Napier and Phillip and Mary Dickson have lived through a parent’s worst nightmare. On May 11, 2002, Napier’s daughter, Meagan Napier, and the Dicksons’ daughter, Lisa Jo Dickson, were struck and killed instantly by a drunk driver. They were both only 20 years old. The grief was unbearable but Napier and the Dicksons were determined to help others avoid the grief that they were experiencing.
The Dicksons worked through their local Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) organization, and Napier founded The Meagan Napier Foundation with the purpose of promoting safe driving. Napier works to spread her message to as many people as she can in the hopes of saving lives.
The drunk driver, Eric Smallridge, has accompanied Napier to some of her speaking engagements. While still serving his sentence, Smallridge was given permission to travel with Napier to speak and tell his story. He would encourage those in the audience to avoid ending up in his situation. After the presentation, the audience would be given the opportunity to view the mangled car.
Napier really wanted her message of forgiveness to get across. Napier and the Dicksons all lobbied for (and won) Smallridge’s early release, and if that’s not a hallmark of incredible forgiveness, we don’t know what is.
1 Immaculee Ilibagiza
Immaculee Ilibagiza is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide that took place in the mid-nineties. Political tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes resulted in the massacre of hundreds of thousands of members of the Tutsi tribe and of members of the Hutu tribe who opposed the genocide. On Easter Sunday 1994, when Ilibagiza and her family were gathered together, Ilibagiza’s older brother, Damascene, begged their father to take the family and flee to safety. They made the fateful decision to stay.
On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying the Rwandan president, a Hutu, was shot down, and everyone on board was killed. Soon after, a killing spree began that targeted the Tutsi people. Ilibagiza and her younger brother, Vianney, managed to make their way to a local Hutu pastor’s home, who provided protection from the chaos that was surrounding them. When they arrived, they learned the heartbreaking news that Vianney could not stay. Ilibagiza and seven other women hid in a small (1 square meter) bathroom for three months. When Ilibagiza and the seven other women were finally able to leave their hiding place, Ilibagiza learned that her family had been murdered. Ilibagiza herself lost 22 kilograms (50 lbs) during her ordeal.
While our human nature desires revenge, Ilibagiza chose to forgive the people who killed her family as she felt the bitter feelings of rage destroying her. Though not easy, she was determined to let forgiveness, rather than hate, rule her life. Eventually, she met one of the murderers face-to-face and told him directly that she forgave him.
Ilibagiza is now living in the US with her children, some of whom are adopted from Rwanda. She has written a best-selling book about her experience, Left to Tell, and has made several television appearances. She has spoken at several conferences and founded the Left to Tell Charitable Fund to help children who have been orphaned through genocide. From the unimaginable pain she had endured, Ilibagiza has managed to do a great amount of good and make the world a little bit of a better place.
Ana is a college student who likes to write lists just to see if anyone will read them.