I remember Saturday, November 8, 2014 like it was yesterday. I woke up that morning, not knowing what would happen hours later. I didn’t know that my biggest challenge yet would come so soon and how powerful forgiveness can be. But that’s the thing about time. It’s never guaranteed.
My mother tried to dissuade me from going to a movie so late because of the distance I would be driving. I assured her I would be home soon. But, I wanted to keep my promise to a friend who had expressed she needed loyalty in her life.
I texted Taylor to inform her I was running behind. She exchanged our tickets for a later movie showing than what was originally purchased, putting me on the road at the precise moment you were there. You entered the expressway, most likely via an exit ramp. Numerous calls were made to the Illinois State Police to alert them that you were driving the WRONG WAY. The police report said that you had no recollection of leaving the bar and that you hit me head-on. The state trooper said he thought both of us were dead.
My memory eludes me, though. I have no recollection after Taylor informed me that she was safe. At 1:00 am, I felt scared for her to travel alone. We had discussed me driving her home, but she refused because she was scared for me too. Scared of drunk drivers like you.
My first memory is of the ambulance ride. The pain eludes me now because my memory can’t do it justice. The paramedic said I was lucky to be alive. The next memory is of laying next to you in the ER, only I didn’t know that yet. The state trooper later informed me. But, it was all too much.
Then the surgical teams discussed which emergency surgery was more immediate. Should they repair the holes to my intestines that would cause sepsis and kill me, or decompress my spine that had paralyzed me? Postponing the spinal surgery, and removal of shards of bone from my spinal canal, would make recovery more difficult. They ended up choosing my life over complete paralysis.
Ten days later, I became septic anyway because the first surgery failed. The surgeons created a colostomy and left me with an open abdomen. My stomach was successfully closed during my fourth major surgery. I needed three more once I was discharged from in inpatient rehab, where I lived for six weeks and learned how to catheterize myself, care for my colostomy and walk. I felt like a giant the first time I stood up after over a month had gone by. I still have an abnormal gait.
Then the nerve pain began. No pain can compare. Of all the things lost: my car, job and a potential love interest, with my body being the most devastating, the pain medication caused me to lose my hair.
Then, there was grief. It felt like a death. Only the person who had died was me. I didn’t recognize myself anymore. And facing you in court—when I attended—for two years felt like I was reliving the trauma. I was reminded of what was lost.
But, what hurt the most was your indifference, as if you had stepped on my toe. No big deal, right?
I felt ashamed for what happened to me and responsible for your lack of responsibility. I begged God to grant me justice and prepared myself that even if that didn’t entail jail time, my pain remained valid.
You see, before the crash God told me something tragic would happen in response to my question of what it would take for certain prayers to be answered. My request? That He preserve my life. For a while, I was so in awe that God had answered my prayer and given me a choice, to be worried about what you were doing.
But then, the implications of my injuries set in. And, I became all too aware of your social media presence and your posts about drunkenness. And the kicker? You had the audacity to ask the judge for permission to go to Vegas, while I picked up the pieces of my life.
But feeling as if you didn’t care created desperation within me; it touched on my deepest wounds of feeling invisible. So I convinced myself that if you didn’t acknowledge my pain, all of the good afterwards also didn’t matter.
And believing this challenged my ability to move forward.
Check out the previous blog post in this series: “The Choice to Forgive: The Day I Hugged the Drunk Driver Who Almost Killed Me.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, “By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy.”
Holding onto resentful feelings over your lack of remorse threatened the joy I had in God’s answer to my specific prayers, and the hope I had in Him to use something terrible for good. By focusing on what you weren’t doing distracted me from being at peace and trusting that my pain had a purpose. Bitterness took root and it clouded the gratitude I had for my life.
To forgive you entirely would mean surrendering control over your choices and the situation. It also meant giving myself permission to move on with life, to fully love the man I would be marrying five days after the final court date, and to extend myself the grace to accept the changes to my body. Forgiveness also meant giving myself room to mourn my losses, but not stay there.
Before the final court date I had finally forgiven you completely. I learned that true forgiveness is NOT about forgetting, but choosing to relinquish feelings of resentment whether the person deserves it or not.
After you pled guilty to aggravated DUI, accepted 18 months incarceration and said those two words: “I’m sorry,” I was putty in your hands. Because really, that’s what I wanted.
I couldn’t have anticipated the compulsion I felt to hug you before you were taken into custody. I couldn’t get to you fast enough.
Even you, the woman who almost killed me, deserved some grace.
As said in my victim impact statement, I wanted you to feel forgiven. Mostly because I feel indebted by the love and forgiveness God has shown me despite also not deserving forgiveness.
You’re beautiful despite your mistake. One moment in time cannot possibly define you.
You chose to accept forgiveness, which took strength, because you had to believe you are worthy of forgiveness, which you are. We embraced, setting off wails from the entire courtroom.
I said, “I know that you hit me of all people so that I could show you God. Do you get that?”
“Yes,” you replied.
Then our demonstration of forgiveness served as an example for our families. My family immediately felt free to forgive, and your family eagerly accepted forgiveness also. Every member of my family hugged every member of your family. I don’t think I have ever witnessed a more powerful and healing moment in my entire life.
Likewise, feeling unforgiven can be just as damaging. Telling, and not showing, you that I forgave you may have caused you to question my authenticity. And the feeling of unforgiveness may have eaten you alive in prison. Just like that hint of unforgiveness threatened to eat me alive.
We all could use a little more grace, love, and forgiveness. When we choose hate rather than love, we contribute to what fuels bullying, wars, division and racism. We can’t contribute anything beneficial to the world. We suck out the light.
I won’t attempt to anticipate how you actually feel, whether you regret your decision, or if you just want to wipe my existence from your memory.
I still want to visit you in prison. Not because you’re a charity case or because I’m a Bible thumper, but because we’ve weathered a storm few do. And you’re part of my story now.
Yes, I will walk with a limp for the rest of my life. It’s uncertain whether I’ll be able to ever empty my own bladder or have my colostomy reversed.
I’m reminded of your choice every time someone asks me, “What did you do? “implying I had a choice in the matter. I’m reminded every morning when I insert a straw-like tube into my urethra to urinate.
I’m reminded of the implications of your sin every time I read the warning labels about how the coating on these catheters may one day give me cancer.
And each time I receive a shipment of medical supplies, I am reminded about the monetary cost: $26,000 a year to use the bathroom. This doesn’t include the $1,000,000 plus I have racked up in hospital stays, surgeries, years of physical/occupational therapy, doctor’s bills and loss of income.
Your mistake, however, is teaching me the definition of strength and beauty in a way I hadn’t known before. True beauty doesn’t come from the size of one’s waist. And strength can be measured by the hardships that are faced with dignity and the scars bared as a result.
And thank-you for reminding me about Jesus’ sacrifice, and that no sin is too big.
Your sin, my dear, is not too big either.
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