In the community of humans that inhabits this earth, however, forgiveness can be very healing. What is fascinating is that it is healing to the forgivER even more than it is to the forgivEN. Right now in Pennsylvania, where those young children were shot the head as they stood in front of the blackboard in a classroom of their own school, the Amish community is proving that to all of us. Members of that community on Thursday gathered around the devastated families of the victims AND around the devastated family of the killer to offer prayers and support.
Yes, did you hear that? I said ...Members of the Amish community visited the homes of both the families of the children who were killed and the family of the man who did the killing, offering comfort. Forgiveness for the man who did the killing was also offered the family members of that mentally tortured individual, in a startling display of the fundamental spiritual understandings and values of the Amish community. Members of this community understand that aberrant behavior by one person does not reflect the highest values held by most, and they refuse to react and respond with anger, hatred, or violence. Least of all , violence.
How much we all can learn from this deeply moving, truly inspiring example of forgiveness and compassion when human beings act in a way that does not reflect Who They Really Are, or demonstrate humanity's highest ideals. In the midst of enormous tragedy and unspeakable loss, the elders of this community are saying this day: "Do not think evil of the school killer. Do not hate those who attack you. Grant them forgiveness, and look with compassion upon their troubled mind."
And so today I thank the Amish Community for showing us all the most extraordinary way to respond to loss, and to being attacked. I am breathless in the observing.
Not many months before, 5 -year-old Kai Leigh Harriott sat in front of a Boston courtroom in her wheelchair and looked directly at the man who had just pleaded guilty to firing a shot that paralyzed her. Associated Press reporter Denise LaVoie wrote that "at first, the little girl broke down, crying harder than she ever had since the night nearly three years ago when Anthony Warren fired three rounds at the house where she was sitting on a porch. After a sip of water and some consoling from her mother, Kai spoke. 'What you done to me was wrong,' she said to the man seated just 10 feet away. 'But I still forgive him.'
"Prosecutors say Warren, his brother and others had an argument with people who lived on the first floor of the three-family house where Kai lived with her family. They left, then Warren returned around 11 p.m. on July 1, 2003, and fired three rounds at the house. One of the bullets hit Kai -- then 3 years old -- as she sat on a third-floor porch with an older sister. The bullet shattered her spine, permanently paralyzing her from the chest down. Tonya David, the girl's mother, hugged the defendant after he apologized in court to the girl and her family. Court Officer Rich Ryan wiped a tear after Harriott's emotional statement."
In both of these moments of incredible loss, forgiveness was offered.
A couple of weeks ago Pope Benedict XVI made an historical reference to a comment about the Islamic faith that apparently riled some Muslims around the world. They said they would not forgive the Pope. Mass protests erupted, in some cases violence ensued, and in one locale an elderly Catholic nun was killed. The violence was in protest of the Pope's reference to a statement which seemed to suggest that Islam is a religion that uses violence to make its point.
Is there something wrong with this picture?
Likewise, Christians and Jews have been slow to forgive, both at moments in our history and in contemporary times. Yet there is a lesson to be learned here about dealing with the world and interacting with its people. That lesson is this: no matter what the offense, no matter how major the damage inflicted, nothing is more powerful than forgiveness in allowing us to go on.