Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Can We, Should We, Forgive?

Can a criminal ever be redeemed? He serves time, pays restitution, completes the requisites of the law…is that it then? Is he absolved? In the eyes of the law, we should say yes, though a person’s record shadows him and that asterisk sitting next to his name makes him suspect.

Maybe it’s only certain crimes or infractions that are forgivable. Could be that some crimes a person might commit can never truly be forgotten or forgiven.

Murder comes to mind, of course. Can a person be forgiven for murder? Can he redeem himself by serving his time?

It seems that only those who acknowledge their crimes can redeem themselves from having committed the crime. If you’re guilty and deny it, you remain guilty and the crime stays with you until you come clean and accept the consequences. Even then, you’re guilty, but redeemable.

If a person commits murder in a fit of passion, turns himself in, stands before a judge and accepts responsibility, goes to jail for the assigned time, and returns to society, is he redeemed? Can he, should he, be forgiven?

Forget about the jerk who kills someone, even in a moment of passion, and then lies, denies, covers up, runs, makes excuses, and tries to evade his just consequences. He will have no redemption. He wants to pretend and so he shall have it. Guilty within and without.

Lane Garrison, a young man who pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter and was released for good behavior after serving 22 months in LA County Jail and a total of eight prisons, granted interviews this week, expressing regret for his crime and gratitude for getting a second chance.

Garrison, who was 26 years old in 2006 and riding high on a budding career in Hollywood, having appeared in a few films, and ironically in the TV series “Prison Break,” was invited to a high school party, drank two beers and two shots, then took three teenagers away from the party in his car. Twenty-six minutes after he met them, he crashed into a tree, injuring two and killing the third.

Before being sentenced to three years and four months in federal prison, Garrison faced the parents of his victim, young Vahagn Setian. Setian’s father said of Garrison, “He is reckless, careless, and especially selfish.” In response, Garrison told the victims' families he was "genuinely remorseful" and "sickened" by his behavior that night.

He stood up that day and took responsibility for his poor decisions, telling the judge, “I am guilty.” He now shows deep pain and remorse. The weight of his crime and depth of his sorrow sit at the surface of his features as he speaks. He says he thinks of the family of his 17-year-old victim “every day, almost every hour,” and prays for them every night.

It appears his career may be resurrected. He seems profoundly humbled.

I hope we never see his face at a red carpet event or at a party in New York City with Lindsay Lohan. If he regains success and the privileged life he nearly tossed aside, he cannot have our hearts and our good will, our forgiveness, if he ever laughs too loud.

But all that aside, is he forgivable? Can a family who lost a son forgive?

I’m thanking God right now that for my husband and me, this is a theoretical exercise. But I’d like to believe we could forgive a young man like Lane Garrison if we were in the position of the parents of Vahagn Setian. I’ve read that to forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. It’s easy to see how a person can be held prisoner by anger and hatred, by condemnation.

Mohandas Gandhi said the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong. Would we be strong enough to forgive this young man? We’d have to let go of what he did, how he wronged us, or we’d never move forward. When a person forgives, he doesn’t change the past - he changes the future.

It’s a vital exercise on a personal and global scale. The willingness and ability to forgive may be our most significant contribution to the healing of the world.