To this day, more than 30 years later, I still find it hard to believe that someone would take our delightful 13-year-old to an abandoned shed and leave her there.
I'm not going to retell the story here. It's been told many times.
The next unbelievable moment which is also important to this story is the unexpected visit of a parent of a murdered child on the evening Candace's body was found.
He shared his grief.
He shared his pain.
Staring at him, slowing realizing that we now shared the same fate, I saw something familiar in his hollow, dark and hungry eyes. It was an abyss - a new more intense, variety.
This one was bigger than the one I had encountered. This one was more complicated - more sinister.
I was frightened.
Cliff saw it too and was afraid.
I'm not going to go into the details but a few days later at a press conference, we inadvertently together told the reporters that we were going to 'forgive' when they asked us about the murderer.
To make sense of this, you have to remember that we didn't know who it was - or even who it could be. And we didn't know for the next 23 years. We truly had no clue.
I for one wasn't talking about a "relationship forgiveness."
I was talking about Hannah's lifestyle forgiveness - or at least I hoped I was....
Except even then, I was worried that my simple understanding of her concept would be inadequate to keep this new hungry abyss at bay.
So we quite innocently told them that we would forgive.
By this time I was a trained journalist, I thought I knew what the lead sentence, the lead story would say about us. Is there anything more sensational than Murder?
Apparently there is -- our little word "Forgiveness" is even more sensational than murder.
As I said before, I wouldn't have been able to articulate my concept of forgiveness back then. I just felt it, lived it and stored it in my rather illogical heart which seemed to know the way through the concept.
I was surprised when everyone else seemed to know what the word meant.
My forgiveness was essentially offenderless. They inserted the name of the murderer - the unknown murderer and wondered at our ability to forgive.
There was another group who also thought we might fit into their camp, they asked me if I would speak at a rally protesting death penalty. I didn't have any idea of what I thought of capital punishment, so I suggested Cliff go. He went - and came home slightly confused about it all as I was.
Things got really complicated and controversial. Our friends would come up to us and tell us that because of their friendship with us, they had been forced to defend us at their work places. One friend told us that he had even lost his job because he had disagreed with his fellow workers during a lunch hour break.
The controversy wasn’t confined to Winnipeg. We realized it had become a national debate when the Canadian Press ran an article essentially dismissing our choice to forgive as something that you would expect from a Mennonite couple. The expert said… “I understand the Mennonite religion quite well and I expect that this would be their reaction. But I sure wouldn’t expect it from anyone else who didn’t have those religious beliefs.”
He said that something like 70 to 80 percent of Canadians want capital punishment – and the vast majority of them have never been touched by murder, even remotely. “
Insinuating that if they had experienced murder they would be even more vehemently supportive of the death penalty.
He also said that these non-Mennonites were afraid of our reaction, afraid that if the pursuit of Candace’s assailant was not carried through it would prompt others to kill….”
In other words by being “forgiving” we were seen as condoning murder.
He then described us as being “true-blue pacifists.”
Remembering my debates with my father, I was truly indignant.
But how could I even begin to address this huge debate? I hadn't really studied it. I did't know their language. I had understood my father, I didn't understand this.
Besides, in the middle of grief, trauma, and shock, I had lost a good portion of my brain.
I had a much bigger concern.
I had already met the new abyss.
I had a growing new force inside of me -- something that suspended rationality... the mother in me who had turned into a purple hulk.
“When you stare into the abyss the abyss stares back at you.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche