Dispatches from a Reporter's Notebook

Forgiveness

Posted June 13, 2007

Every day I ask my children:  "How was your day?  Did you learn anything at school today?"  Recently my youngest daughter turned the tables on me and said:  "Did you learn anything at work today Mommy?"  I had to think about it.

It's been quite a week...  Monday I covered the case of a drunk driver who admitted to running down a man walking his dog.  That same day I covered a murder where a man was beaten to death and buried in a field.  Tuesday, I covered the solving of the city's oldest unsolved homicide case by the Raleigh Police Department.  That same day I covered the sentencing of a man who participated in the murder of a retired Wake County school teacher.  Today, I covered the competency hearing of a man who is accused of hitting nine people on the UNC Chapel Hill campus with his SUV.  I then covered the plea and sentencing of a young man who held a teacher and student hostage at gunpoint.  And it's only Wednesday...

A viewer e-mailed me yesterday and said:  "You cover some hard stories."  I had never heard it put quite that way, but this week I have to agree.  The constant coverage of tragedy and the insatiable treadmill of daily news often desensitize us journalists to what we cover.  The problem is that with the speed required to make all of these stories happen in one day, its very rare that I have time to sit back and consider the real context of each situation and the greater meaning of the story beyond just the basic facts.

I tried to think about a common thread, something that inextricably binds these people together from their separate tragedies.  What I came up with was forgiveness.  It's something that is always either present, or noticeably absent, to varying degrees in every tragic event. 

Monday, David Barber, the man who was hit by the drunk driver, was more concerned about the young man's life being ruined by a long prison sentence than he was by the crash that had left him on crutches and unable to do his job.  Barber  is probably one of the most amazing examples of forgiveness. that I have ever encountered.  Yet the family members of the young man who was murdered and buried in a field were too freshly embroiled in their pain to even think about a thing such as forgiveness.   They wore their anger and pain at court like exposed nerves ready to explode at the slightest provocation.

The woman whose brother was murdered twenty-years ago, Mary Ann Sides, told me she forgave the suspect, Everett Alston, even before the Raleigh Police solved the case.  Sides said a heart full of bitterness is too heavy a burden for her to carry throughout her life.   Yet when Marvin Johnson apologized to the family of Shirley Newkirk for participating in her murder, it was clear forgiveness was something they may never be ready to give.  They sat  silent and stoic in the courtroom appearing impervious to his eleventh hour remorse.

In a letter dated May 20,  Mohammed Taheri-Azar has asked the court to forgive him for running down nine people at UNC Chapel Hill.  He appeared contrite in an Orange County courtroom today instead of with the vocal bravado and swagger he displayed at a hearing in March.  Yet, his case will go forward.  He was deemed competent to stand trial, no amount of forgiveness will keep the wheels of justice from turning.

Barrett Foster, a Chapel Hill teenager, apologized briefly in court today for taking a teacher and a student hostage at gunpoint.  But his words rang hollow to teacher Lisa Kukla' whose life has been turned upside down by this single event, this single hour when she thought she might never see her infant son or husband again.  She longs for what she calls "a sincere apology," again something she may never get.

At the end of the day I think forgiveness is very hard for most of us to offer.  Let's face it, most of us don't forgive the guy who cuts us off in traffic, or the person who gets our order wrong at the drive-through.  But in most cases the people who do offer forgiveness are rewarded with a kind of peace that transcends the transgression that has been done to them.  David Barber and Mary Ann Sides are shining examples to me of people who have somehow been able to do this grand act that escapes most of us on a daily basis. 

That's what Mommy learned this week, and it's only Wednesday.

 

About this Blog:

WRAL's Amanda Lamb offers a behind-the-scenes look at what TV news reporters do, the people they meet and how their jobs affect them.