One of the great tests in this life is our willingness to forgive those who we believe have offended us or hurt us.
Many of us have been deeply hurt by the actions of others. Most of us have suffered wrongs of some sort.
Exclusion. Sleights. Gossip. False accusation. Thoughtlessness. Public humiliation. Vicious rumors. Emotional abuse. Sometimes even physical harm or abuse. Sometimes death. Sometimes we even carry a grudge against our Heavenly Father for the things He has allowed us to endure in this crazy, often painful world.
This story, highlighted by President Gordon B. Hinckley in a conference talk a few years ago, illustrates the power of forgiveness, both in the life of one who offended and one who was deeply offend. He quotes from a Deseret News article these words:
“How would you feel toward a teenager who decided to toss a 20-pound frozen turkey from a speeding car headlong into the windshield of the car you were driving? How would you feel after enduring six hours of surgery using metal plates and other hardware to piece your face together, and after learning you still face years of therapy before returning to normal—and that you ought to feel lucky you didn’t die or suffer permanent brain damage?
“And how would you feel after learning that your assailant and his buddies had the turkey in the first place because they had stolen a credit card and gone on a senseless shopping spree, just for kicks? …
“This is the kind of hideous crime that propels politicians to office on promises of getting tough on crime. It’s the kind of thing that prompts legislators to climb all over each other in a struggle to be the first to introduce a bill that would add enhanced penalties for the use of frozen fowl in the commission of a crime.
“The New York Times quoted the district attorney as saying this is the sort of crime for which victims feel no punishment is harsh enough. ‘Death doesn’t even satisfy them,’ he said.
“Which is what makes what really happened so unusual. The victim, Victoria Ruvolo, a 44-year-old former manager of a collections agency, was more interested in salvaging the life of her 19-year-old assailant, Ryan Cushing, than in exacting any sort of revenge. She pestered prosecutors for information about him, his life, how he was raised, etc. Then she insisted on offering him a plea deal. Cushing could serve six months in the county jail and be on probation for 5 years if he pleaded guilty to second-degree assault.
“Had he been convicted of first-degree assault—the charge most fitting for the crime—he could have served 25 years in prison, finally thrown back into society as a middle-aged man with no skills or prospects.
“But this is only half the story. The rest of it, what happened the day this all played out in court, is the truly remarkable part.
“According to an account in the New York Post, Cushing carefully and tentatively made his way to where Ruvolo sat in the courtroom and tearfully whispered an apology. ‘I’m so sorry for what I did to you.’
“Ruvolo then stood, and the victim and her assailant embraced, weeping. She stroked his head and patted his back as he sobbed, and witnesses, including a Times reporter, heard her say, ‘It’s OK. I just want you to make your life the best it can be.’ According to accounts, hardened prosecutors, and even reporters, were choking back tears” (“Forgiveness Has Power to Change Future,” Deseret Morning News, Aug. 21, 2005, p. AA3).
I hope, no matter what the circumstance is, I can have the strength to forgive others when necessary and to forgive myself regularly.
I hope I have a heart like Victoria Ruvolo's, who was more interested in salvaging the life of another than in exacting revenge. Ryan Cushing was not exonerated. He still had to pay a price for his thoughtless selfishness, but he also received the gift of forgiveness.
May we all be so blessed.