The Truth About Forgiveness
Bernard looks at a photo of his son.
The Washington Post magazine section had a wonderful article this past weekend, The Truth of Forgiveness. Karen Houppert's well-written article begins:
After his son was murdered, Bernard Williams became consumed by anger and depression. There was, he came to realize, only one way to save himself.It is a true story of forgiveness worth the read.
Fourteen years ago, Bernard's neighbor shot his 17-year-old son on a Baltimore street. Shot him with a semiautomatic rifle that left a hole in his chest so big that Bernard's wife swears she could see the pavement, plain as day, through the giant wound. Shot him in a fit of pique, a moment of vigilante justice. Shot him when the teen and some friends were goofing around, dribbling a basketball down the street. Shot him after Bernard's son had knocked into the neighbor's Toyota 4Runner truck, set off the car alarm, roused him from his slumbers. Because he was angry at kids who'd been harassing him with that car alarm, because he had a Ruger Mini-14 handy, because he knew how to use this lightweight version of the military's M14 as he fired out of his bedroom window just after midnight. Shot Vernon Williams dead on May 21, 1994, one month after his 17th birthday.
For Bernard Williams, even 14 years later, it is hard to think about the man who killed his son. The scene still plays out in his head over and over. The sirens. The police helicopter. The flashing lights. His dead son in his arms. The police leading the suspect, William Norman, out of the house. Norman's girlfriend spying Bernard hunched over his son's body. "That your son?" she asked. And again, "Bernard, that your son?" And then an awful recognition. "I'm sorry."
But for Bernard, forgiveness comes hard. It requires peeling back the layers of a life, tracing the arc of relationships, recasting a narrative over and over to worry some telling detail. Sometimes it means going right to the source, confronting the offender in a quest for answers. And, as Bernard has come to realize, it also requires forgiving yourself.