This past week, TV stations across the country showed us an amazing scene: Brandt Jean, the 18 year old brother of Both Jean who was shot and killed by a white female police person who went home to the wrong apartment after her night shift was over, asked the trial judge if he might hug the woman who killed his brother. When the judge understandably hesitated, young Brandt said “please” and was allowed to make about 40 seconds of physical contact with the woman. Was I watched this, I flashed to 2015 when the white man entered the A.M.E. Church in Charlottesville, S.C. and shot too many black congregants who were holding a prayer meeting. When I then listened to several family members of those just killed by the bigoted killer say they forgave him and were praying for him and his family, I thought “Wow, I profess to having some kind of faith but it’s not what these people have. Maybe in years after such a senseless murder, I might be able to forgive him but not less than 24 hours after the cruel and senseless event.” That’s how I felt watching Brandt hugging the white woman who was reduced to sobs.
There’s been push back about this recent example of forgiveness with some people asking if we could have imagined a situation where the roles were reversed, that a white family member whose beloved had just been killed by a black person who thought s/he was entering their own apartment when they were on an entirely different floor. Articles made reference to the 2015 moment in which people didn’t agree with what the black congregants were doing, convinced that the perpetrator of such racial violence did not deserve forgiveness. It seems to me these two extraordinary examples of human beings being able to practice a value system that surely turns on believing we are all better than our worst deed need thoughtful consideration. Just as no two people handle grief the same ways, no matter who devises typical phases for handling staggering losses, so something as mysterious as forgiveness will be handled differently by each of us.
When I listened to family members back in 2015, I felt sure they were speaking with total honesty and conviction, that somewhere in them was a well-spring from which it was possible for them to stand before cameras and lights and offer something other than an “eye for an eye” vengeance model to those of us trying to cope with the sheer barbarity of what the white man had done. And when I looked at and listened to Brandt Jean humbly ask and then almost plead for the right to touch the person he might well want to see dead at his feet for what she had done, I was similarly sure he was speaking from his soul and his heart, not his head.
Since I am working to find goodness around me even as I continue to reel from the latest atrocity being committed by the man in the White House, I salute someone like Brandt and thank him for challenging me to try harder to resist striking back or becoming as abusive in my own speech and thoughts as the people I find so despicable for their speech and, because they also wield power, their actions. Whatever happens to the white police woman during her time in prison, Brandt Jean and his immediate family know an inner calm that defies logic and invites reverence. They are showing me what grace looks like in 2019 and I thank them.