In the spring of 2003, an elderly member of my church named Dick Nethercut visited my freshman confirmation class one Sunday night. Mr. Nethercut came into our church parlor with a slightly unsteady gait and an old VHS tape. It was a recorded episode of the TV show “Chronicle” from a few years earlier. It had obviously been replayed many times, as Mr. Nethercut spoke to the new confirmation class every year.
As the show began, the newscasters introduced the topic of this particular episode as forgiveness. Specifically, the show followed two fathers whose daughters had been murdered. I remember watching in the dark the glowing image of the slightly younger Mr. Nethercut on the screen, telling his horrific tale of a beautiful, radiant daughter brutally raped and murdered in the beginning of her freshman year at college, and feeling acutely aware of the same man, older and more withered, sitting on my right. I was unable to move. I felt paralyzed and uncomfortable, imagining that by being so close as he relieved his tragedy, I was intruding on a private grief.
I had no experience with anything like this. What were we all to say when the lights came on, I wondered. The video went on to examine Mr. Nethercut’s actions after the murder. The man was found, arrested, tried and sentenced to a life in prison without parole. And less than a half a year later, Mr. Nethercut chose to forgive him.
It was an unforeseen twist that left us all slightly stunned. It was so unexpected. All the tales of family loss I could remember from books and movies ended with the punishing of the murderer, justice obtained and honor restored. And yet opposite the blonde interviewer sat a quiet, unassuming man with small shoulders who had just redefined my world. He would never be able to forget the pain of losing his precious, vibrant daughter but he saw no use in holding a hatred.
Today I believe in forgiveness above all else. I seem unable to listen to the news, or study our justice system, or think about guilt or punishment in the same way again. I find our country’s current actions appalling. The way I see it, forgiveness is the only way to restore ourselves after an injustice has been committed against us, and it is the only way to make whole again what loss has undone and broken.
There is more to every individual that the actions they make. There is more to every victim than the justice they seek. This I believe. After Mr. Nethercut’s interview segment on the show, the scene cut to another father, with a similar story, but a man so angry, all I remember of him was the repeated use of the words “justice” and “revenge.” I had trouble seeing past his rage, but when I did I noticed he looked desperate and confused. I could hardly listen to this second segment however; I was still seeing the blurry, solemn, and pixilated face of the sincere and humble man of before. “I forgave him,” he had told his interviewer. He went on to say that he hadn’t known why he had done it at the time; he didn’t feel that way at first. He had said it, and then later began to realize its truth.
I see Dick Nethercut in church all the time. Sometimes he serves coffee during our Fellowship hour, chatting quietly and refilling the paper cups. Today, he works with prison outreach, teaching in his quiet, peaceful way by example a loving and noble way to reconstruct after sorrow and disaster. He has been working with prisoners, guilty men and women, guilty of theft, abuse, lying and murder, for 30 years. And while his daughter will never have a chance to see it, he sews the seeds of a brighter and more loving future in her name.
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