After my latest post with a drug court graduate’s letter to his mother, a dear and sensitive friend shared with me his experience in witnessing a convicted drunk driver giving his speech about killing someone on the road.
This man had crossed the center line and killed a teen driver, and he was never going to forget it. He stood crushed, trying to talk about the unthinkable: causing the death of an innocent young person. He could never go back in time and change that outcome. He could never atone for it. Because nothing he could ever do would make up for it. Nothing he could ever do would bring his balance sheet to a positive number. He was now a killer, and he would die a killer. Yet there he was, out of prison now, trying to use his story to warn others, to hopefully save them from both causing and experiencing suffering without end.
As he spoke, an older woman stood at his side. She was tearful, too. At times, she would touch his back or show him some kind of support. It seemed to bolster him, so he could keep talking through his tears, keep sharing his story – his warning tale. When he was done, he turned to her. Then he stepped aside, and she took over the podium. Now the drunk driver, the killer, was standing in support. What was this older woman going to say? Was she going to say how this was her son, and she shared his guilt, for not having intervened with his early drinking? No. She was not his mother.
She was the mother of the teenage girl this man had killed. She was the mother of the crime victim. And she was standing with the criminal, the convict, who was supporting her as she spoke in her turn of losing her daughter, the light of her life. And how she misses her girl every single day, and always will. How she looks forward to dying, on the slender hope that she might see her baby again. How some days, even now after a decade, she wishes it could come soon.
She reiterates her plea that no one in this room cause the kind of suffering that she has gone through. At the very end, the man adds that his eight years in prison were nothing compared to his inner suffering. “I will carry this with me to the day I die, and if there is an afterlife, into the beyond. I can never, never make it go away! Please do what I wish I could have done – what I would give anything to go back in time and repair – hand somebody your car keys, for God’s sake! Better yet, get sober! Please! Don’t do what I did to this family!”
They move off the podium and go sit together in the front row, still supporting each other in their shared grief over a single event that changed both their lives forever.
There are several programs around the country to set up reconciliations, in which a crime victim gets the chance to confront the criminal, and the criminal may get the chance to offer an apology or regrets. I find it amazing that any crime victim would be brave enough to do this. I would think that very few people would even consider talking to the criminal, especially a random stranger. And to build any kind of relationship out of that pain seems impossible. And astounding. How many of us could stand there beside someone who killed a family member, and give comfort? How many of us could take comfort there?
I know someone who lost family members in an accident like this, and she refused to meet with the driver when he requested it. She didn’t want to risk bringing him any comfort or closure, she said, because she was never going to get any. And who can blame her?What happened was inexorable and merciless, and she in turn has zero desire to make it easy on anyone else, especially the killer.
Each individual interaction we have holds the capacity to transform both parties. When one person does something to another, both are changed. And so are their loved ones. We are so interconnected, like it or not. No one can get back to exactly where they were before an event like this. Moving forward through forgiveness is something no one can demand or even suggest to a grieving family member. But for this remarkable mother, I feel sure that what she is doing has been a great healing for herself, her family, and her community. And an act of incredible love and courage.