I had no words to describe the horror I saw when I was called to an incident by the local police. It would be absured to say I'm ignorant to the fact that violence can happen anywhere. But your mind refuses to accept that it can happen to your own children.
My son, Willem, was heading home for dinner. He had dutifully phoned to tell me where he was, and when he would be home. But it was less than fifteen minutes later that the police phoned to ask me to come to 'an incident.' It never would have been in my mind that it was my own son who had been the victim.
According to the multitude of witnesses, Willem was violently assaulted by a group of thugs, with somewhere between eight and fifteen of them stomping on him and kicking him in the face and chest. Willem's crime? He was too short for the liking of one of the assailants.
Multiple fractures, a ripped septum, damage to the optic nerve, fracture of the skull, fluid on the brain - all of these against an inherently polite and docile lad, who is liked by everyone. Just after the assault, I was surprised by remarks from several well-meaning individuals, who offered to 'sort out' the assailants as a ‘favour’ to me. Comments along the lines of 'I hope they find them and string them up,' were the most common and there were a few that were a bit more sinister and succinct. As a priest, however, I don't agree, but I nonetheless nodded back in acknowledgement. The words expressed are sincere voices of an anger that we can't deny. It's a natural human emotion to a dreadful event.
One gentleman actually gently chastised me for comments I made on the BBC about forgiving the people who committed the crime. He suggested that we should all embrace the philosophy of 'an eye for an eye.'
It's all too easy to over sentimentalise the act of forgiveness. It doesn't mean we're forced to have warm and affectionate feelings for those who have harmed us. Forgiving allows us to put the event behind us, to return our lives to normality, and begin to live again without fear. It allows us to place our faith in our judicial system, that with the weight of evidence, the assailants will indeed be held accountable.
And perhaps most of all, it prevents us from perpetuating the cycle of responding to one outrage by repeating another. Otherwise, we'd only end up being reflections of the ones who committed the crime.
It has indeed been a difficult journey for my son. Equally, my daughter Mary, has suffered. But it is the strength of family, faith, and hope that will get us through.
Postscript: Shortly following Willem’s assault, it was discovered that several of the thugs made a ‘rap’ song, celebrating what they had done to Willem and published it on one of the Social Networking websites. Thanks to the efforts of the BBC, the publisher’s account was closed and the song removed. The matter was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Labels: how to forgive, how to forgive violence, parents pain for child suffering, teaching children to forgive, turn the other cheek, violence against a child, words of comfort for child in pain