Forgiveness

Forgiveness.

I dance around the word like a moth circling a bright flame. From a distance, I see its beauty. But if I fly too close it will burn me.

I try to live my life with kindness. I follow as best I can the Buddhist principle of Ahimsa, the practice of doing no harm to any living thing, including yourself.

Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t.

I am human. It is not always easy to be kind. It is not always easy to forgive.

Still, the word gnaws at me. If I can’t forgive then I, too, suffer. As selfish as it sounds, if I am withholding forgiveness from someone, I am hurting myself.

But, what if forgiveness is not always possible?

How do you forgive someone who altered your life forever? Who with one careless action left a part of you dying on a cold city street?

My son, David, was 27 when a driver struck and killed him in a crosswalk. It was the middle of the day, visibility was good, traffic was light. Police reports show the 18-year-old behind the wheel said she did not see him. But her passenger did. He yelled at her, “Watch the guy! Watch the guy!”

In the nightmare days that followed, friends asked: “Have you heard from her? Have her parents been in touch?” I looked at them blankly. In my state of shock I didn’t know who they were talking about.

“The driver,” they said. I shook my head. “I doubt she’s in any condition to reach out,” I responded.

I felt sorry for her. She didn’t mean to do this, I reasoned. It was an accident.

In the months that followed, my family lived in a dream world. We were numb, mute, weeping.

I blocked any thoughts of the driver in a desperate attempt to preserve my sanity.

“How can she carry on as if nothing happened?”

We heard she went back to university and her part-time job. My husband’s grief turned to anger.

“How can she carry on as if nothing happened?” he said, wiping tears from his face. I continued to believe that her life was anything but normal, that she had to be deeply affected by her actions.

As time passed and the enormity of our loss set in, my heart hardened. All David’s future, all the promise his life held, were snatched from him in one inattentive moment.

Nine months after David died we received a letter in the mail. It was from the driver. She said she was sorry. She said if she could switch places with our son, she would. She said she thought about David all the time.

We read it without emotion. All I could think was,”Nine months. That’s how long it takes to make a baby.”

Shortly after, she was in court pleading guilty to failing to yield to a pedestrian. She was fined $2,000 and her licence was suspended for two months. She cried all through the hearing and afterwards walked out without a word to us.

Ahimsa comes more easily to those around me. Strangers murmur that the driver’s age and inexperience were factors. Others gently suggest that better infrastructure at the crosswalk might have saved David’s life.

I agree, and part of me feels guilt that I am unable to forgive. It is impossible right now, though, to get past the thought that this driver aimed her one-tonne bullet at my son and killed him. What difference does it make if it was intentional or uninentional? The outcome is the same.

She is scarred by this, too, my psychologist tells me. But all I hear is this young woman’s silence.

The letter she sent so many months after David was killed is not enough. I need to hear the words from her lips. I need to sit face-to-face with her and talk about that day. Maybe it would help us both. Maybe we would see each other as the broken human beings this tragedy has made us. Maybe someday there may even be room for forgiveness.