The Power of Forgiveness
The following is the true story of Mary Johnson and Oshea Isreal:
Oshea was 16 years old and wanted to get into a gang. The way that he proved himself to enter the gang was to shoot somebody—it was an initiation rite. He shot this kid, Laramiun, he didn’t know. Two days later, he was apprehended, brought to trial, and at the end of the trial, convicted.
Just before he is taken away in handcuffs, the mother of the boy who was shot, Mary Johnson, stands up, looks him in the eye, and says, “I’m going to kill you,” and then sits down.
After being in prison for a year or so, the Oshea is visited by Mary, and he’s kind of frightened. She says, “I’ve just got to talk with you.” They have a little bit of conversation, and as she leaves him she says, “Do you need anything? Cigarettes?” and leaves him a little money.
She starts to visit him. She goes every few months, and over the course of three or four years, she starts visiting him more regularly, talking to him.
When he was about to get out at the age of 17, she asks, “What are you going to do?” and he says, “I have no idea. I got no family, no nothing.” And she says, “Well I’ve got a friend who has a little factory—maybe I can help you get a job.”
So she arranges that with the parole officer. Then she asks, “Where are you going to stay?” and he says, “I don’t know where I’m going to go.” And she says, “Well I have a spare room where you can stay with me.” So he comes and stays in the spare room, takes this job, and after about six months, she says, “I really need to talk with you—come into the living room. Sit down, let’s talk.”
She looks at him and says, “Remember that day in court when you were convicted of murdering my son for no reason at all, to get into your gang, and I stood up and said, ‘I’m going to kill you?’”
“Yes ma’am, I’ll never forget that day,” he says.
And she looks back and says, “Well, I have. You see, I didn’t want a boy who could kill in cold blood like that to continue to exist in this world. So I set about visiting you, bringing you presents, bringing you things, and taking care of you. And now I let you come into my house and got you a job and a place to live because I don’t have anybody anymore. My son is gone and he was the only person that I was living with. I set about changing you, and you’re not that same person anymore.
But I don’t have anybody, and I want to know if you’d stay here. I’m in need of a son, and I want to know if I can adopt you.”
And he said yes and she did.
Today, Oshea and Mary are next door neighbors. They speak all over the country about the power of forgiveness.
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One realm we have never conquered--the pure present. One great mystery of time is terra incognita to us--the instant. The most superb mystery we have hardly recognized--the immediate, instant self.
I am Myohye Do'an, a bhikṣu (fully ordained Chán Buddhist monk) and Chán Master. Here I share my thoughts and observations about living a life of compassion, attention and gratitude.