What I learned about forgiveness from Isaiah
In the world of non-profits, ministries and social service entities working with “at risk youth” there are certain words that get thrown around in an attempt to grasp the lived experience of the youth we are working with. One of these words is “resilience.” In my experience, we have no idea how to grasp what this word means until we see it with our own eyes and it slaps us in the face.
At Cup of Cool Water, we are blessed with many examples of youth who truly embody resilience and we have the honor of learning each day about how they persevere to live a full and beautiful life in the midst of tremendous trauma.
On a cold day this January, we opened the drop-in center as usual. At 1 o’clock we opened the doors and about 15 people rushed up the stairs. Youth waited patiently while we checked each person in. Near the end of the line there was Isaiah, a young man with a pleasant disposition. He is someone we are always excited to see at the drop-in center. He is the type of guy who lifts the spirits of those around him without too much effort. When we greeted him, he smiled and handed us his bag, nothing seemed amiss.
We ran the drop-in like any other day. We made our way through the clothing list, calling back individuals to go back to the clothing room. I called Isaiah’s name and we walked together to the clothing room. When we arrived at the clothing room, he began looking through the shirts. We talked about the designs on the shirts and which color might work well for him. I asked a seemingly innocuous question. I said, “How have things been for you lately?” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, I just got out of the hospital.” This was an open door, so I asked him what happened. I was not prepared for what followed. Isaiah shared a story with me about him being stabbed. He said there was a misunderstanding between a female friend of his and an older homeless man. Isaiah said the man left his bags outside of a convenience store and when the man came out, the bag was gone. Isaiah and his friend were the only two people in the area, so the man’s rage was directed at them.
Isaiah’s friend immediately got in this guy’s face and denied their involvement. There was a shouting match between them and Isaiah was relatively uninvolved. He did his best to calm his friend down and explain to the angry man what his friend was unable to convince him of, that they had nothing to do with his missing bag. According to Isaiah, as soon as he inserted himself into the encounter, this man pulled out a knife and stabbed Isaiah twice. He said it happened so fast that he was not prepared for it. He saw the knife, then he felt what he thought was a punch. He started bleeding everywhere and the man left.
Isaiah and his friend called an ambulance and were rushed to the emergency room. He had a punctured lung and some serious wounds with a high probability of infection. Thanks to antibiotics and time to recover, he was released from the hospital after two weeks. The day he was released from the hospital is the day he walked into the drop-in center on that day in January.
I was shocked by this whole retelling because he seemed so calm about it all. Right or wrong, I asked if I could see the scars. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He had two scars, one was about 9 inches long and it went vertically across his chest and the other one was about 3 inches long near his sternum. It turns out the smaller laceration was the more dangerous of the two because it was the wound that was responsible for the puncturing of his lung.
I asked him if he planned to press charges and he shrugged his shoulders. He simply said, “I think I am going to forgive him.” I was in complete shock. When I asked him why, he said that he had been through so much in his life and he knew that it wasn’t going to help much to press charges or hold it against the guy.
His story hit me because so often in our world of privilege, we feel an urge to make everything fair. We complain when we have to wait on the phone for an hour when we try to renew our medical insurance or when we get a speeding ticket (both things I have complained profusely about in the past). When we are faced with true injustice, we find ourselves incapacitated.
That day Isaiah showed me what true resilience means. He demonstrated what true forgiveness looks like, to let go of bitterness and learn to forgive, even in the face of great injustice.