Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 28, 2006
To forgive is truly divine – and hard to do
A notorious drunk driver: What is a priest to do?
By FR. VICTOR EZE
"Love your enemies"
- (Matthew 5:44)
I had talked with Godfrey two days earlier over the phone and he sounded hale and hearty. A later message from him sat on my answering machine still undeleted. He was full of life and laughter.
It was therefore a terrible shock to hear that gloomy Tuesday morning from my other brother Jude that, "as I am speaking with you, Godfrey is no more."
I was devastated, inconsolably so, as I recalled all the moments shared with my kid brother. He had lived with me for several years after Dad passed away, and had been a formidable and wonderful support in my life. He was the best brother and friend anybody could have. Godfrey could not have died, with his dreams and hopes. This had to be a mistake or a bad joke.
But it was real. And for this, the sorrow was overwhelming.
As details of the events leading to his death gradually unfolded, slowly but determinedly my sorrow turned into seething anger. It was revealed, I gathered, that Godfrey was killed by a drunk driver; a well-known recalcitrant who had no regard for fellow road users or bystanders.
This fellow had been repeatedly cautioned by local women at the village market square to drive more carefully and be considerate of other people.
What is more, seeing how he was speeding excessively the morning of the incident, an exasperated woman had shouted after him as his vehicle screeched passed, "Damn you, you fool, you are itching to spill some blood."
Like a curse, he did.
I felt like going back to the ancient Mosaic observance of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
Minutes after, he killed my brother. He killed Godfrey. He rammed into him and others while they were inside a shack off the road at the market square unsuspectingly going about their day's business. Godfrey died instantly; he was hit on the head.
He was the only one killed. The rest suffered injuries. Later, as I looked at the face of the culprit, I could not help but taste the bile rising from the pit of my stomach into my mouth in sheer fury and resentment. How could anybody waste away an innocent beautiful life like that and plunge an entire family and village into such agony?
Mom, with whom Godfrey was living and had provided for since I had left for Canada three years ago, was worse hit, as was Godfrey's twin brother Godwin. Both were preparing possibly for their marriage ceremonies later in the year. Poor girl, I wonder what her destiny with the gods were.
For the first time in my life, I felt like going back to the ancient Mosaic observance of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Surely this guy does not deserve to live while my brother dies, I coldly calculated.
How could Jesus ask to forgive someone in this situation? Did he really know how much we hurt and how deep was the anger in the family?
The moment of decision arrived when members of the family came face to face with this driver. Being all young bloods, my siblings and I were, as it were, angling for some revenge, which in this case undoubtedly would have tasted so sweet. There was an irrational choking knot of fury inside us screaming for a deserved vengeance. Blood begets blood after all, going by an old African clich‚.
At any rate, amidst tears and restrained wailings, Mom was the first to look him in the eye and to offer him forgiveness. After what seemed like ages, everyone else in the family followed suit. When it came my turn to speak - I spoke last - I could not unfortunately give him an unconditional forgiveness.
Without intending to attach strings to the offer nor to derive some psycho-emotional relief, I demanded that he turn a new leaf in his life by virtue of the unfortunate event. Knowing the power of sacrifice, I had prayed and wished that his life would change and possibly be redeemed by the innocent blood brutally shed on some altar of sacrifice.
This way Godfrey's life would not have been wasted but indeed would be salvific. The threat was obvious in my voice that the culprit had no choice in the matter but this. He has to change his life for good for the forgiveness offered by the family to be effective.
Overall I imagined, maybe every member of my family would not have forgiven him, if Mom had not led the way. It was difficult, but we had to do it. I for one knew that I had to forgive this fellow not only for his sake but mine also. I knew I could never live a happy life again if I let this resentment remain and fester like an ugly sore in my heart.
That night, as the family gathered silently together under the moon-like glow of the hurricane lantern, swayed and dimmed now and then by the gentle rustling wind of the dark African night with the insects swirling in the nearby thick mangrove as the hoot of the night owl could be heard in the distance, we felt at peace. We knew we had done the right thing.
Somewhere in my heart I could feel an intense welling up of gratitude; a sentiment, as serene as it was warm and which I was certain did not emanate from me, though sitting right inside me. It was like an exhilarating feeling one gets when someone is mightily proud of them.
Strange how the dead can indeed communicate! At that point, I had no doubt in my heart that Godfrey was talking to me. It was like my late brother was saying, "Thank you Osita for letting him go and letting me go in peace."
It was then that the real meaning of the words of Jesus dawned on me as clear as crystal: "This I did for you."
He forgave me too.
(Father Victor O. Eze is pastor of St. Margaret's Parish in Rimbey.)
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