I cried through the last 20 pages or so of ‘The Hour I First Believed’ this morning. I’m a big fan of the author, Wally Lamb, and I’d be nervous to recommend the book in case people don’t like it, but I’m going to take a risk and say “Read it!”
It’s been amazing to see how this book, without any conscious plan on my part, has added to the rich experience that I have had these last nine and bit weeks.
The book is about trauma, and about the effects of the different traumas on the characters in the book. I won’t spoil the story, but the book is also about finding some measure of healing, always with suffering, and sometimes because of the suffering.
I don’t want to labour it, but the true story of Linda White’s meeting with her daughter Cathy’s murderer seems to sum up much of what I have been learning. (see blog entry ‘Hurt People Hurt People)
The culmination of Linda’s story is her meeting with Gary Brown. (Cathy’s murderer).
For a year, a mediator has met with Linda and Amy, Cathy’s daughter, who was 5 years old at the time of Cathy’s murder. The mediator has also had meetings with Gary in prison to prepare him for the meeting. The victim/offender meeting is not about making things easier for the offender; it does not mean that their sentence is reduced. It is about confronting an offender directly with the consequences of their crime, with the purpose of bringing some restoration to both offender and victim.
By the time they finally meet, they have begun to exchange letters, and both parties come to the meeting with apprehension, and a mixture of powerful emotions.
Linda and Amy tell Gary that there are some hard things that they will say to Gary. Linda also tells Gary that they are there to listen to Gary talk about his life as well. Amy tells Gary how his actions have destroyed her life, and describes how as a child, she had numerous counselling sessions to help with the trauma. Gary sits opposite Amy with his head down, in tears.
As well as telling Gary what they want him to hear, they want to know what was going on in Gary’s life that would drive him to commit such a terrible crime, and they want Gary to tell them about the details of the final minutes of Cathy’s life. (Gary was 15 at the time of the murder). Just watching the interview is painful and distressing. At the end of the six hour emotional meeting, there are tears on both sides, and amazingly, Linda and Amy ask Gary to come and stand with them, and have their picture taken together. After having their picture taken, Linda gives Gary a hug, and so does Amy. “It was hard for me to hug him,” says Amy, “but I felt like it was necessary.” Linda says, “It was the most logical thing in the world for me to hug Gary.”
For me, this story is as good as it gets. What Linda White did mirrors the work of God in Christ. The path to reconciliation involves suffering – for Jesus that meant death on the cross. The restoration of what has been lost through sin will inevitably mean a path of suffering. If the pain, disruption and destruction caused by sin is confronted, then somehow that pain must be absorbed and robbed of its power.
This is what happened in that Texas prison, sin was robbed of its power to enslave Gary, Linda and Amy. They were able to take the next step in their lives.
And these things can happen because in the reality of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, sin and evil were ultimately and decisively robbed of their power to enslave.