We had a bird's eye view that first evening when the stranger came to visit. We saw the trauma on the bed and somehow leapt high enough to glimpse the glass finger of forgiveness on the distant horizon and flew frantically towards it. It was simple.
We lost sight of it two days later at a press conference when we told the journalists that we were going to 'forgive.' To our surprise this became the lead story. Forgiveness trumped murder - who knew!
Suddenly we were pedestrians. The long view was gone as we encountered the controversial side of forgiveness. Our choice to forgive was misconstrued by some of the public as giving permission to murder another person.
Another assumption was that we would now be friends with no boundaries. We were seen as hippies again - flower children - irresponsibly declaring love and no war. We weren't sure how that all applied because we didn't even know who had murdered our daughter - not even a suspect.
In fact I'm not sure of all the controversies, I just know that one of our friends, who defended our forgiveness choice, lost his job.
Confused, Cliff and I kept our head down and kept walking in the general direction of forgiveness. However, when I wanted to join a support group for parents of murdered children my now public choice to forgive preceded me, and I was told that if I really wanted to join the group I would have to "lose the forgiveness word." Forgiveness was unacceptable to this group.
So I lost the word. I promised that I would never mention the word. They could - I wouldn't. They talked about it constantly - I didn't have to.
Once I was on the inside as a a member I began to understand the unrealistic expectation of outsiders. Forgiveness was a solution for those who were suffering compassion fatigue. "Why don't you forgive already - and move on?" they would tell the group. Unable to deal with the issues that felt unforgiveable (and research substantiates this that the murder of a child with sexual intent is considered the most unforgiveable act) so unable to forgive and justly so, the group felt only the rejection. Forgiveness was then designated the "F" word by the group.
With the storm of controversy swirling, I decided to just keep walking the streets of my life in the direction of the finger of hope. I knew forgiveness was out there. I knew it was a miracle worker I just didn't know where or what it was all about - I didn't have the words. I needed a map - a comprehensive simple description of forgiveness, the processes necessary and the expected benefits that would help to convince others and explain our decision.
So I was absolutely delighted when I had the opportunity to attend a theological discussion on forgiveness in Washington DC. There for two days, sitting at a table with the most brilliant academics, I waited for the lightbulb moment – for the map with the directions to be unfolded onto the table. But the definition - the map- did not come. Someone else at the table even voiced their own frustration at the end of the weekend demanding a map with a definition of forgiveness. Panic ensued but no one had a map. Not even the brilliant had the answers. We went home empty handed.
It's true the Bible makes a comprehensive attempt to unravel the concept of forgiveness – but the book is long and complicated. The theologians and authors who are meant to be the guides - often only confuse the issues. Even the historical stories of Menno Simons, though encouraging seemed out dated and irrelevant - addressing war but not murder. The lens of the murder of a child requires a no nonsense approach. Pat answers don't cut it.
In desperation, I held a conference in Winnipeg and invited all the high profile cases of parents of murdered children from across Canada to come to this two day consultation on forgiveness. We called it the "F" word conference. We didn't come up with a map either. We didn't agree on anything except to add the other "F" words describing our plight - the survival-driven words of fight, flight, freeze and frenzy…. It was strangely comforting just to talk about it and declare our "frustration" - another "f" word by the way....
At the end of the conference, I remember clearly the speaker who was also frustrated, just looked at all of us and said, "I know what you need. You first of all need to forgive yourselves!" We promptly discarded the "f" and fell into each other's arms - forgiving ourselves and becoming a beautiful healing circle of love.
After that the walking was a little easier but we still had no map.
In hindsight, there is something to be said about having no definitive map - no agreed upon formula - and taking the pedestrian route. In the end we have to just walk it by ourselves anyway.
For Cliff and I - our biggest claim to success is that we didn't get stuck. We just kept on moving. We were on a life's pilgrimage through the trauma wilderness towards the promised land of forgiveness and freedom. Well maybe we paused - here and there for a bit - stumbled - took wrong turns. None of it was pretty but we kept on moving.
Eventually - just the walking became an act of forgiveness.
"Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning," - Martin Luther King Jr.