Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Twenty Years Later, Forgiveness

by Staff


Tags: forgiveness, prison, victim’s family,

“Resentment is like a glass of poison that you drink; then you sit down and wait for your enemy to die.” It’s a well-known saying, its truth self-evident. But forgiveness is difficult, and understanding its importance doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.

Twenty years after her mother’s murder, Stephanie Cassatly wasn’t particularly interested in forgiving the man responsible, as she recounts in the Fall 2007 issue of the nonfiction journal Fourth Genre (essay not available online). She writes that “I had no interest in having a positive impact on a cold-blooded murderer. In fact, I strongly supported the death penalty, silently bitter that my mother’s killer had only received a life sentence.”

Cassatly harbored that resentment until a chance encounter provoked her to start thinking about the man who killed her mother. She spent a year obsessively learning more about him, until she finally called the chaplain’s office at his penitentiary. The chaplain asks is she wants him to serve as a mediator. Here’s what follows:

“Yes, I think I would,” I said, surprisingly sure of myself. I stood up and began pacing.

“And how shall we do this?” he asked more pointedly. “Would you like me to deliver a letter for you?” I felt my stomach tighten at the though of something so tangible between us, as if her killer could touch me through a piece of paper. Father Damereaux interpreted my silence. “Or perhaps you can simple tell me what to say, and I’ll personally deliver the message to him.” My stomach relaxed slightly.

“Yes. Maybe that would be better,” I agreed.

“I think it would be best if you were very specific as to what I should say. For instance--”

But I interrupted him with a burst of unexpected clarity. “How about if you say, ‘The daughter of the woman you killed in 1980 wishes to forgive you. Do you have anything you want to say in return?’” It sounded so simple and to the point. He repeated it back to me. “That’s it,” I said.

Steve Thorngate