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Holisticonline.com

Compassion and Forgiveness
By Dr. J. Mathew, Chief Editor, Holisticonline.com

Recently, I read two stories that touched me greatly. They convinced me that, in spite of all the headline news about terrorism and evil in all parts of the world, there is some “good” left in ordinary people. I would like share these stories with you.

The first story took place in the western region of the state of Ohio in the United States. Just before the last spring (2002), when it was time for planting crops, a farmer was diagnosed with cancer. The doctors told him that he may not survive until the harvest season.

Obviously, there was no point in planting something if he could not harvest it, right? Well, this bothered the farmer greatly. He wanted to do things he was used to doing until he died. But he was worried that there wouldn’t be anyone to harvest his crops if he died before the harvest time. His friends and neighbors learned about his dilemma. They went to him and assured him that they would harvest his crop for him in the “unlikely” event that he would not be able to do it himself.

Well, the farmer planted the crops. Unfortunately, about three weeks before the harvest time, he passed on. At the time of harvest, his friends and neighbors got together, harvested his crops, and stored it safely in a celebration of life for their friend. It was a great community project. It also was a unique way to celebrate someone’s life. His wife was greatly touched by the great compassion shown by their friends.

The other story also happened in Ohio. The story in The Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper, on October 16, 2002 touted a headline “To honor daughter, parents say, 'Spare killer.'

EmilyThe story was about Emily Murray, who was kidnapped and murdered last year. Emily was a philosophy major at Kenyon College who hoped to become an Episcopal priest after graduation. Emily disappeared on Nov. 3, 2000 immediately after she left work at a restaurant in Gambier, Ohio. Investigators discovered that immediately after Emily left, a co-worker named Gregory McKnight followed her.

On Dec. 9, 2000, police went to McKnight's trailer to arrest him in connection with a burglary. While there they noticed Emily's car. They searched the trailer and found her body wrapped in a carpet in a bedroom.

Four days later, while looking for more evidence, police found parts of another person, who was later identified as Gregory Julious. The body parts were found in a root cellar, a cistern and a trash bag. Julious had been missing since May. Both Emily and Julius were 20.

Emily and my daughter Seena were close friends at Kenyon College, a private liberal arts college in Ohio. We were naturally very shocked and alarmed when we learned about the murder of Emily in the quiet college town. Later I took Seena to a memorial service in Cleveland, Ohio to celebrate Emily’s life. I learned that Emily was planning to dedicate her life to serve humanity. She attended a camp the previous year. She was profoundly touched by the experience at the camp. She was convinced that she had received her calling. At the camp, Emily discovered the value of human life. Later, she shared her beliefs with her parents. She told them that she cannot visualize any circumstances that will justify taking someone’s life.

Gregory McKnight was convicted on October 10, 2002 by a jury for kidnapping and shooting Murray and in the slaying of Gregory Julious. On October 14, 2002, the jury recommended that McKnight be executed for Murray's death. Within two weeks, a judge is scheduled to sentence McKnight to death or life in prison.

The parents of Emily were in a great dilemma. Thomas and Cynthia Murray, parents of Emily know that, “ ... the man who kidnapped and murdered our daughter, is a man without conscience or remorse. He is evil, the very embodiment of evil.' They have sat through court proceedings where the defense lawyers attempted to distort their daughter's character. To the parents of Emily, “sitting through the trial was the hardest thing they had ever done.”

Fortunately, the jury didn’t buy the argument of the defense lawyers. They recommended capital punishment.

So, you may wonder, “what is the problem now?”

“The last two weeks have been a torment for us,' Mr. Murray, Emily’s dad said. 'We have listened to the details of our beloved Emily's kidnapping and murder, and to the defense's profoundly offensive efforts to make Emily a victim yet again.'

However, Emily’s parents know that she was an extraordinarily kind and generous person with remarkable integrity and moral conviction. They know that Emily was opposed – in fact passionately opposed - to killing people for any reason. According to them, “It is vitally important to us, Emily's family, to bear witness to her beliefs just as we bore witness to her life during the trial.”

They have decided to swallow their hurts and pain and ask the judge to spare the killer from the death sentence to honor the beliefs of Emily.

Can you imagine being Emily’s parents? Asking a judge to spare the life of their daughter’s killer, a killer who has shown no remorse for his actions? However, Emily’s parents are convinced that Emily would regard it as a tragedy and an abomination if another human being were put to death in her name. She would rather that they forgive him instead.

Last May, I attended the graduation ceremony in Kenyon College. It was a great occasion for myself and my wife. Our daughter was graduating with a degree in Neuroscience. But during the convocation, everyone stood up when the name Emily Murray was called and the family went and accepted the degree for Emily posthumously. I saw several of Emily’s classmates rubbing their eyes.

But ultimately, Emily’s story proved that evil cannot succeed. The killer could not kill the spirit of Emily or the principles that were held high by her. You can kidnap and kill her; but you cannot kill her spirit or her life. What is more, she has caused her parents to forgive the atrocities perpetuated by their daughter’s killer.

Many of us walk wounded, tied down by the weight of the anger and revenge we carry on towards those who have wronged us. The hurting is real. However, by carrying this heavy baggage, we are punishing ourselves. The anger and the hurt will paralyze us emotionally and prevent us from leading a normal life. It is important that we let this go, so that we can live again.

This reminds me of a poem about perfect forgiveness:

Perfect Forgiveness

When on the fragrant sandal-tree
The woodman's axe descends,
And she who bloomed so beauteously
Beneath the keen stroke bends,
E'en on the edge that wrought her death
Dying she breathed her sweetest breath,
As if to token, in her fall,
Peace to her foes, and love to all.

How hardly man this lesson learns,
To smile and bless the hand that spurns;
To see the blow, to feet the pain,
But render only love again!
This spirit not to earth is given -
One had it, but he came from heaven.
Reviled, rejected, and betrayed,
No curse he breathed, no plaint he made,
But when in death's deep pain he sighed
Prayed for his murderers, and died.

Author Unknown

Too many times we dwell on the wrongs that have been done against us. By dwelling on the hurt, it is impossible for us to forgive. Leo Tolstoy, told the following story in Tolstoy's Russian Stories and Legends (Pantheon Books).

An honest and hardworking Russian peasant named Aksenov left his dear wife and family for a few days to visit a nearby fair. He spent his first overnight at an inn. That night a murder was committed there. The murderer placed the murder weapon in the sleeping peasant's bag.

The police discovered the peasant with the murder weapon in the morning. He was stuck in prison for twenty-six years, surviving only on bitter hopes of revenge.

One day the real murderer was imprisoned with him and soon was charged with an escape attempt. He had been digging a tunnel that Aksenov alone had witnessed. The authorities interrogated the peasant about his crime. At long last, Aksenov got his opportunity for revenge. At his word, his enemy, the one who destroyed his life, family, and future, would be flogged almost to death.

However, a strange thing happened. Aksenov suddenly felt the grace of God to well up in his heart. He found that the darkness that filled his heart for the past 26 years has fled. It was replaced by light. He found himself saying to the officers: "I saw nothing." His enemy was saved from the punishment.

That night the guilty criminal made his way to the peasant's bunk and, sobbing on his knees, begged his forgiveness. And again the light of God flooded the peasant's heart. "God will forgive you," said he. "Maybe I am a hundred times worse than you."

And at these words his heart grew light and the longing for home left him.

It takes courage to tell a judge not to carry out the death sentence of a person who has killed one’s daughter. It is difficult to forgive someone who tried to trash the character of one’s daughter after killing her. However, love and forgiveness will always overcome the darkness of the evil and, instead, fill it with hope, joy, and light. Emily’s story is a great example of how darkness cannot remain when there is light.

Yes Victoria, there is still some goodness left in this world.

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