Chris at the 20th East underpass, February 2008
Tyler and Emily* [friends who tragically lost a child] had been very direct. He wanted to know how I had forgiven the driver immediately after the crash, asking me how I was able to “keep moving forward rather than go through months or years of anguish struggling to let it go?” They both spoke of being emotionally and physically drained as a result of their tragedy. They were tired of “feeling stuck” and earnestly wanted to find peace.
“I am a quick study when properly motivated,” I said. “But, unfortunately, I’ve found that whatever knowledge I thought I had gained in those cram sessions usually didn’t stick as well as something that was painfully pressed into my soul over a longer period of time.
“To make matters worse,” I continued, “I am not a very patient person. I want answers and a resolution to my struggles before I’m prepared to comprehend the answer or fully appreciate the relief.” Tyler nodded his head in acknowledgement, while Emily shared similar experiences of struggling with patience and perseverance, of desperately awaiting a release from the trial they were enduring.
As the conversation progressed, I became increasingly concerned that my attempts to provide the answers and comfort they sought were falling short. My suspicion was confirmed when, after talking together for almost an hour, Tyler interrupted my explanation of what I had gained from the forgiveness by saying, “I can see how it’s possible to forgive and heal, and even why it’s necessary to do so—I get that—but I still don’t understand how you were able to let it go and move forward so immediately, right after the crash.” He didn’t want textbook admonitions regarding the virtues of forgiveness, or a reminder that it was ultimately the right thing to do for him or his wife or anyone else who has been hurt. He was willing to be completely open and wanted me to do the same. He hoped to peer deeper into my soul to tap the strength he thought I had found—he wanted a much more personal and unfiltered view into my life than I had yet been willing to provide. He wanted to pierce the public façade we all put up when we interact with one another and, by so doing, see me as I really was.
I suddenly felt very vulnerable and much more exposed in their presence. I knew I had to go back to that horrible, excruciating moment in the car just prior to the decision and commitment I made to let it go. I didn’t know where to start. I struggled to preface that terrible refining experience by reviewing my life prior to the crash. I expressed my hopes that I had tried to live so that I could be thought of and described as one who tried to cultivate a peaceable walk among the children of men in his life, one who tried to “do unto others” as I would have them do to me. As I continued, images of the crash began to flash in my mind, and I was now acutely aware and careful of what I was saying, as if I were on trial, justifying my life before them. My explanations started sounding hollow as I began, in my mind’s eye, to envision the exterior of our mangled car that had just been hit, and what I must have looked like after the impact—seated inside the car, in shock and desperately trying to process what was happening.
My life’s justification was now sounding increasingly desperate. I stopped speaking. I could now clearly see myself seated in the car after the impact, so helpless, so very helpless. I couldn’t speak as the flood of emotions choked my ability to continue. My eyes were directed at the table between us, but I was unable to see anything but the image of a father whose life had just been shattered. Slowly I looked up. Tyler was leaning forward, his gaze fixed on my eyes, and Emily had begun to weep. I looked directly into his eyes so he could somehow see the scene I was observing in my mind, and I shared the first thing they needed to know about my reactions at the crash site: “I am nothing.”
*names of the couple have been changed.