I have visited the Amish country near Lancaster, Pennsylvania several times and could never imagine that this beautiful farm country, with its peaceful and loving residents could ever have their lives shattered by bullets in a schoolhouse and that act would produce an act of love and kindness that I find hard to believe.
Seven years ago, a young man, Charles Carl Roberts IV, did the unthinkable, barricaded himself inside an Amish schoolhouse, tied up ten girls and finally killed five of them, injured five more, and then committed suicide as police approached. I remember my horror at hearing this story that touched us all, especially as teachers and parents, and I remember my anger and hate of the young man who could do something so horrible to children. And then came the miracle, which even is echoed today in the Amish community where this brutal deed happened. The Amish people, even the parents of the children who were killed or permanently wounded, responded by offering immediate forgiveness to the killer, "even attending his funeral--and embracing his family." I couldn't understand how they could do that given what this man made them suffer, but they did.
Even the mother and brother of the killer recount how the forgiveness and love of the Amish helped ease their pain. The brother tells how an Amish neighbor named Henry told them at the funeral, "Roberts, we love you. We don't hold anything against you or your son." The mother calls Henry her, "Angel in black" and says he gave her her first glimmer of hope. I couldn't have done that, not that soon, perhaps never. Could you? The stories of how these Amish people of simple lives and faith forgave and showed love for this tormented family filled the newspapers and television, but would it last?
I can't imagine how a father, a brother, a mother, an uncle, any relative or friend, could so immediately forgive and show love for someone I would hate, for someone I would perhaps blame for the act of their son or brother. And in the article today it says that one parent of a child horribly wounded admits, "We hope that we have forgiven, but there actually are times that we struggle with that, and I have to ask myself, have I really forgiven?" His daughter was not expected to live after being shot in the head, and now needs constant care, but like the other Amish, Rosanna King's father, Christ King, is somehow able to find the strength and love inside to offer kindness, forgiveness, and even love to the killer and his family. I know we explain such acts as the acts of a disturbed mind, or the result of abuse, deprivation, despair, but can we really find forgiveness for someone who causes such grief and pain? How did the Amish do it? What is their secret?
As Henry explained to the killer's mother, "We're a forgiving people."
"We're a forgiving people." Is it as simple as that? Maybe we all need to become "forgiving people"...
As I said, it is a story of hope.