The Sunday school lesson a few weeks ago felt as if it was aimed right at me. So did all the talks (sermons) in Sacrament meeting. For that matter, even the Relief Society (women's class) lesson targeted me.
Everything that day was about forgiveness.
One of the most meaningful tidbits I'd heard that day was, "Why is it easier to forgive strangers and people we work with than members of our own family?"
I'd been chiding myself for a while because I was frustrated with a loved one who wasn't, in my opinion, fulfilling their responsibilities. I wasn't angry, but I was being rather tight-lipped with a specific person for fear of saying something I'd later regret.
This person could tell, too, that I wasn't happy, and had blasted me for "never letting go" and holding a grudge for forever.
I came out of church that day determined to stop judging the thorn in my side and to stop being upset that someone's choices were different than mine.
I worked really hard for four days to show a higher degree of love and acceptance.
And then my world unexpectedly and temporarily came to a complete and grisly standstill. Those Sunday messages may have prodded me to do something I knew I needed to do, but they were not about the person I'd been frustrated with at all. Not even close. Instead, those messages must have been God's warning that I was about to stumble back into the deepest, darkest hornet's nest of my life, and I'd better be ready.
When I got off work that night, I wanted to run a 10K. I knew it would destroy my back, but I didn't care.
When I got home, if I'd had a quart of Ben & Jerry's Phish Food, I'd have downed the whole carton in one sitting, all by myself. To heck with diets and cycling season. Fortunately, we don't keep ice cream in our fridge. There were a few Oreos leftover from my volunteer teaching assignment on Tuesday night, but I managed to stay out of the cookies.
Instead, The Lizard took a walk with me. We walked around the lake while the sky turned crimson red and lightning flashed about five or six miles away. We could see the bolts reflecting in the lake, and I didn't have my camera. I didn't care.
At the time, I kept trying to convince myself I didn't care about anything anywhere. But deep down inside, it was the exact opposite.
That day, I'd been asked to write a victim impact statement (VIS) on behalf of my family. Typically victim advocates try to give families at least 30 days' notice, 90 days if they can. We were given one week.
I collected my family's thoughts, and I researched the heck out of victim impact statements by others. I researched the law in several states. I tried to learn as much as I could so I could write the best VIS possible. I learned some states give more rights to the criminal than the victims. Some states edit what the families of the victims say. My family was lucky, if you could call it that. The state where the crime was committed had passed a Victim's Bill of Rights in 2009, and what we had to say would be heard. The decision would be affected by what we had gone through.
Some parole boards seemed to have grown calloused by and numb from eons of what they must consider whiny victim statements demanding justice decades after the actual crime was committed.
My family had been deeply hurt, not once, but twice. It's been a very bitter pill to swallow for 25 years now. 25 years. A quarter of a century, and yet, that day, talking about it again, it was as if it had happened just minutes before. The wounds were fresh again, and the pain... oh, my gosh, the pain. I thought my own pain had healed. I thought I had forgiven. Rehashing the scene forced everyone in the family, including me, to relive the nightmare. I discovered during my interviews that some members of my family still have very strong feelings about what happened.
Rare is the day when someone in my family isn't sorrowful or despondent because of memories of that fateful day.
My family chose me to write the VIS because I'm the writer. They think I'm the one who can keep my cool under duress. They trusted me to convince the parole board to deny the request.
My family was spared the research and hours of tinkering with VIS words and sentences with a looming deadline and a hyperactive work schedule, trying to make sure everything was just right. They weren't able to put the crime completely out of their heads though – some have never been able to put it completely out of their heads. Some wounds never fully heal. Yet they didn't have to relive it one word at a time via a computer keyboard, so they didn't understand my purpose or my words in my first draft. Not all of my family shares my faith, so they couldn't comprehend the ground upon which I was struggling to stand.
Struggling. I don't know that the word "struggling" even begins to describe what I went through in trying to compose a statement that encompasses the feelings of my family as well as my own and ultimately would become part of an official transcript that will be kept on record until time ends. A statement that would reflect my family's experience forever. A statement I would one day have to explain to God, face to face. Although I was not and am not in favor of parole, I tried to be compassionate, and I wanted to show that we, my family, are not being vengeful in our request.
Suddenly the blame and the anger wasn't aimed at the inmate anymore. It was directed at me.
I've long understood people grieve at their own pace and must climb their own stairway to healing. I've known for many years some members of my family have suffered far more than I have. I was somewhat insulated. I didn't live in the town or even the state where the crime was committed. I wasn't surrounded with the daily newscasts during the trial. I was able to keep living, even though something inside of me had died that day. I was far from pain-free, but the distance in miles served as a shield, protecting me from daily salt in the wound.
As I walked around the lake with the person I love the most, I felt the love I needed. He listened to everything I said. He held me when I cried. He tried not to tell me what to do. He was angry with my family for putting me in this position, but he also knew I had initially felt honored to be the one to represent my family. He knew he couldn't make the pain go away, so he just listened and tried to be my friend.
He continually reminds me of Someone Else who also loves me unconditionally and who also walks with me through my deepest sorrows and my exuberant joy. The One who would expect me to forgive... not only the person who committed the crime, but my family for misdirecting their anger. He expects me to be an example to my family and to help them progress in their own individual journeys.
When The Lizard and I got back home, I did an internet search for songs about forgiveness, and the one above is the one that helped me most in the coming days as I rewrote, resubmitted and reconnected with my family. My family was much more comfortable with my second (and final) draft. After the ordeal, my beloved husband and I took a ride up Waterton Canyon, a most healing ride. Photos will be featured tomorrow.
Now that this ugly experience is behind me, I intend to keep forgiving. The final line of the last verse of Matthew West's song is something I'm hoping I can embrace and live for the rest of my life.
The prisoner I free may be me.