A touch of grace A jarring news story hit us with a gut-punch recently

Thursday, October 10, 2019
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Guest Commentary

A jarring news story hit us with a gut-punch recently.

Amber Guyger, a white police officer returning home from work in Dallas, shot and killed an unarmed black man as he sat in his own home eating a bowl of ice cream. At her trial, the officer claimed she mistook Botham Jean’s apartment for her own, which was on the floor beneath his, and shot him thinking he was a burglar. A jury didn’t buy the explanation and convicted her of murder.

Then, at Guyger’s sentencing last week, at which she received 10 years in prison, another jarring scene — jarring because we are so unused to witnessing such things in these pitiless times: The victim’s teenage brother, Brandt Jean, offered her forgiveness in an emotional embrace. And then the judge, who is also black, embraced Guyger and gave her a Bible to read.

Many have objected to the emphasis placed of this part of the Guyger story, saying it ignores the injustice and pain suffered by African Americans in this and other cases on a regular basis, and that they are expected to forgive and not express their anger.

There is no argument with these objections. But such an amazing display of grace as shown by Brandt Jean cannot go unnoticed, either. In a world filled with terrible deeds, his action was an example to all of us.

Why would anyone like Brandt Jean forgive? Isn’t forgiveness condoning the evil deed someone has done?

No, because people who commit crimes and evil acts are still responsible for what they have done, and must face the consequences of that. But the “forgivers” have learned something the rest of us have such a hard time absorbing: That forgiveness releases the stranglehold the wrongdoing has on us, robbing it of its destructive power over our lives.

In the words of nationally known therapist Claire Frazier-Yzaguirre, “When we forgive, we free ourselves from the bitter ties that bind us to the one who hurt us.”

It’s letting go of the right to revenge, so that the pain and anger doesn’t in turn destroy us.

Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness. Quite the opposite.

“The weak can never forgive,” Mahatma Gandhi once said. “Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Rather than condoning a wrong, forgiveness, which is at its core a spiritual act, confers a moment of undeserved grace that has its own power — the possibility of transforming the offender.

Even then, forgiveness doesn’t expect something in return. That concept is found in a moving 1989 song about a broken relationship, “Heart of the Matter,” by former Eagles member Don Henley:

“I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter,

But my will gets weak,

And my thoughts seem to scatter,

But I think it’s about forgiveness, forgiveness,

Even if you don’t love me anymore.”

Applying that thought to the broader world, where getting even is our natural human inclination, forgiveness, for Amber Guyger and the rest of us undeserving souls who need it, is an unexpected touch of grace in a merciless age.

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