Hector and Susie Black are farmers from Cookeville, Tennessee, and have long been supporters of the work of TADP. Hector is a member of TADP’s speakers bureau called Sharing Our Stories: Murder Victims’ Families Speak (S.O.S.) and regularly speaks to groups around the state. I have heard Hector share the heartbreaking story of his daughter’s murder before, but when I heard it recently, I was moved as powerfully as the first time I ever heard it.
A small group of us were gathered at the home of Paul and Joyce House for some additional speakers training. Paul spent nearly 23 years on Tennessee’s death row until new evidence demonstrated his wrongful conviction. Joyce is Paul’s mother and his fiercest advocate. In the room that day were people who lives had all been directly impacted by the death penalty. Some, like Hector, had lost loved ones to murder. Others had loved ones who had been executed. And others had spent time on death row. This was the group to whom Hector stood to tell his story.
When I do presentations around the state, I am sometimes asked how I would feel if someone I loved was murdered. I try to answer the question as honestly as I can when I say, “I don’t know.” I don’t think any of us knows what our response would be to something so devastating. I hope, and I pray daily that my response would be like that of the Blacks or of others I know who have traveled the painful journey toward forgiveness and ultimately received the gift–for that is what it is. The journey looks differently for everyone, and some may not get there in this life, but I believe it is indeed a gift that God longs to give to us all. And as my friend Charlie Strobel, whose mother was murdered in Nashville, says, “It is, in fact, a miracle.”
Some confuse forgiveness with condoning or forgetting what someone has done in the act of murder. I don’t agree. One can forgive while still demanding accoutability for someone who commits murder through life sentences that keep violent individuals confined and society protected. What forgiveness is about for me is freeing the one who is doing the forgiving from the bitterness and hate that can consume us when we have been so terribly hurt, and, at the same time, giving us the ability to keep living ourselves.
Forgiveness is a gift that allows us to say “no” to more violence and hatred, the very tendencies that led to the murder in the first place. And, I believe the act of forgiveness would honor my loved one’s life in a far more profound way that an act of death ever could. I could go on trying to explain my understanding of forgiveness, what it is and what it is not, but Hector can say it better than me through his story.
I hope that you will take a few minutes to listen to Hector tell his story through StoryCorps. In this story, you will hear how a devoted father struggled with his anger and profound loss while at the same time experiencing the profound freedom that comes through the miracle of forgiveness. Thank you, Hector and Susie, for your profound witness and for honoring Patricia’s life in such a beautiful way.
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