Healing Through Forgiveness
After his wife is fatally injured in a car accident, a husband experiences spritual growth by forgiving the other driver.
The lava rocks glowed red in the fire pit inside my backyard sweat lodge, but I saw only the dark outlines of Chip and Shannon, friends I had turned to for support. A Connecticut Yankee, I’d come to value this sacred Native American tradition, how the intensity of the heat can bring focus and clarity. It was where I’d often felt closest to God. But now I wasn’t sure I’d find him here. We weren’t exactly on speaking terms since the accident six months ago that killed my wife Cassandra, a beloved Navajo activist.
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“Lord,” I prayed, my plaintive voice filling the small tentlike enclosure, “please give me wisdom. I can’t make this decision on my own.”
The lodge grew steadily hotter, my skin beading with sweat. I took a deep breath, felt the warmth inside my lungs, then slowly exhaled into the darkness. I could hear Chip and Shannon doing the same.
We’d just returned from the Southern Ute tribal prosecutor’s office. He wanted my input on a plea agreement with the young driver who had fallen asleep at the wheel and slammed head-on into Cass’s car on a desolate stretch of highway on tribal land. That November evening she had just dropped me off at the airport, and three of our four children were in the car with her.
The crash left my son from a previous marriage, 12-year-old Noah, unable to walk, Amada and Dante injured, and me with no way to put our family back together again. I thought back over the prosecutor’s words.
"I know this has been devastating for you,” he had said, “but with no evidence of alcohol or drugs, I think two years in jail is the best we can hope for.” He had explained how sentences can vary depending on the jurisdiction.
I’d asked for a week to think it over, but now that seemed an impossible deadline. For months I’d been focused entirely on the kids, especially Noah. It hadn’t been that long since he’d come home from the hospital. How could I even begin to consider questions of justice? It was just too painful.
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What lesson was there to learn from Cass’s death other than that life is profoundly unfair? She was only 30, her whole life ahead of her. Two years in jail? Five? Ten? It wouldn’t bring her back, wouldn’t heal Noah’s spinal-cord injury. How could any decision I made, any ruling in a court of law, possibly matter?
Cass had made a difference in the lives of so many young Natives, one of our many shared passions. Her own journey of rising above the poverty and despair of the reservation was such an inspiration. After college she’d devoted her life to helping her people. She believed in the power of the individual. And she’d had such faith, been baptized in the Animas, the same river where we’d met rafting.
She was the one who pushed me to quit my job as a builder and start a nonprofit organization training Natives to be wilderness guides. She had so much to give. It felt like a bright, brilliant flame had been senselessly snuffed out.
I closed my eyes, trying to focus only on the heat filling the lodge. Sweat dripped from my face and arms. I took a deep breath. Then another. I could feel every pore of my body opening, normally a moment of peace and surrender. But there was no release from the tension inside of me. I was glad for the support of Chip, a minister, and Shannon, a member of the Lakota tribe, but they couldn’t make the decision for me.
The easiest thing would be to go with the prosecutor’s recommendation. He was the expert after all. But there was something about it that troubled me.