I will never forget that sound.
The crunching of the packed snow beneath my feet, dissonant with the throbbing in my ears from my racing heart.
He sought me out. He wanted my forgiveness. Wanted to talk to me…to see in my eyes that forgiveness was even possible.
I sought out a safe place to meet him. Though I knew with certainty that he wouldn’t physically harm me, I feared for my emotional safety. My aunt provided that shelter.
Fourteen years prior, he shot my father twice and killed him.
I was two. And in an instant, fatherless.
As I reached to open my aunt’s door, I was stuck between two places. In that moment, with my hand clenching her doorknob, I could move forward or I could retreat. There simply was no in between.
I pushed the door open and the heat from my aunt’s house engulfed me.
He was there. Sitting at the table. I greeted my aunt, shed my coat, and sat opposite him at the table. And I waited.
It wasn’t my turn to talk.
He apologized. His words were much what I expected them to be. I knew the story…the reasons for why he did what he did. They had been the best of friends.
I can still see him, rubbing one of his hands with the other, worrying his skin raw.
But his eyes? His eyes expressed his sorrow and remorse in a way that his words never could.
I’m not sure I have ever seen eyes as soft as his were in that moment as he sat there, stumbling over his words, looking to me for encouragement to continue speaking.
I let him speak until he was completely deflated…words expelled like air from a balloon overfilled to near bursting.
There was a familiarity about him. Some part of my brain remembered him.
In that moment I was left to make a choice. To forgive him or to hang onto my anger and hurt, polishing it until it gleamed with bitterness.
It was the moment to choose whether to set him free of his burden or take that opportunity to make him pay. To crush his hopes for a release from even a small part of his guilt.
I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I forgave him.
I made a choice that freed us both.
The easy, predicable choice would have been to hold my anger close, fueling it with thoughts of all that had been ripped from me.
The more difficult choice was to forgive him, to recognize that he was human and that relinquishing my anger would bring me peace unlike anything I had ever known.
His life was already broken. He would never be the person he was before he killed my father.
But my forgiveness? He sat there and asked it of me.
And offering that it to him was truly the fork in my road.
The Road Not Taken — Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
*The decision to forgive this man who destroyed my family was my choice. This was the right choice for me. If I were my grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, or mother, I can’t say that my choice would have been the same. That is impossible to know. I can only truly know what is best for me. I love my family beyond words and their strength astonishes me to this day.