When senseless violence like this occurs we often react with deep sorrow at the innocent lives that are shattered for no apparent reason. We also tend to focus on the acts of heroism and selflessness that often accompany such events because we want and need to take something positive out of such a negative moment. Many of the newspapers are calling Erin Stoffel a hero because of the way she saved her two small children, and they are calling her seven-year old son a hero for running to get help, and it appears they are right to do so.
What strikes me about this horrific event is the immediate reaction of those most closely affected by it. Here are three quotes that stand out:
“I don’t know why it happened. I don’t know the motive. I feel sorry for the shooter’s family.”–Jim Campbell, Erin Stoffel’s brother
“Our prayers go out to the other family who lost their father and daughter, and mother who is struggling for life along with the man who took his own life.”–statement from the Adam Bentdahl family
“Forgive the shooter.”–Jonathan Stoffel’s last words
There were other quotes from members of the Stoffels’ church in which it was noted that people were praying for all of the victims, including the shooter and his family.
In a world where many of us, if not most, have a hard time forgiving little slights that we might receive even from those closest to us the magnanimity of the victims’ families is all the more surprising and refreshing. All of the quotes I am reading from the families and friends most affected by this crime are about compassion, love, and forgiveness. For Jonathan Stoffel’s last words to be “Forgive the shooter” is breathtaking.
All too often the first reaction is the Old Testament “eye for an eye.” Too often we think first of retribution, how much we hate the person who could commit such an act. In this case the Stoffels, who are Christian, are living their faith. The Bentdahl family, too–whatever religion they are–speaks of praying for the shooter.
This kind of empathy is not limited to those who are Christian, but I admire those who can be that confident in their faith–whatever it might be–or their belief in our shared human experience, or whatever else it might be that allows them to see the humanity in a person whom others might perceive as evil for his actions. It is an example for all of us.
If these families can try to understand the motivations of the man who killed their loved ones, if they can find forgiveness for such a horrible act, if they can see that he, too, was a living and breathing man with his own life story filled with love and loss, joy and sorrow, then who are we to hold grudges for words that wounded us or actions that hurt us? Might we not look also at the motivations or the life circumstances of those who have hurt us in some way? Might we not look for that shared humanity and leave the petty hostility and negative energy behind us?
It is not an easy path, but the path that bridges one side with the other, even when fraught with fear or danger, is a path worth taking.