By Dr. J. Mathew, Chief Editor,
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
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.'
The 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
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
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
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:
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.
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
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.