Editorial: Potent forgiveness

Last updated 05:00 15/12/2012

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OPINION: They market Lotto on the agreeable question "what would you do?" But what if one of life's darker lotteries had your number, or that of a loved one?

One man who came to Invercargill for the Burt Munro Challenge won more than $20 million. Another two, heading back home, were struck and killed by a tourist on the Lindis Pass. Two other people were injured.

Here's the thing. The two dead were gang members; the driver a Chinese exchange student to Australia, who had been in New Zealand for only a day.

Given the awful consequences of her driving error - she slid into gravel and over-corrected - and the fact she had since then essentially been alone here awaiting judgment for her blameworthy driving, it is easy to accept the description of her lawyer Tim Cadogan that she had been living in fear since the accident.

Among the wider public, sympathy naturally emerges for such a vulnerable figure. This country does have a serious problem with inexperienced tourist drivers on our unforgiving roads, but the solution clearly does not lie with applying extravagant penalties after the event.

But by the same token, it is entirely understandable if two bereft families, not to mention two seriously injured and potentially traumatised survivors, might be twisting in reproach and recrimination.

Considering the gang background in particular, let's not deny there was a cliche-busting aspect to what happened at her trial. In a moving display of empathy, the family of Grant John Roberts embraced Kejia Zheng after telling the judge they did not want her imprisoned for what they called a tragic accident.

This, remember, when the sense of loss must still have been so raw from a crash less than three weeks earlier.

Having met her before the trial - and here we might add that there's a great deal to be said for restorative justice meetings - it is clear that Mr Roberts' family were able to see past their own loss.

In doing so they in no way diminished his memory, though there can be hope that it has helped, in some way, the healing.

Such stories of forgiveness are not uncommon. We need look back only a few days earlier, to a case where the husband of elderly Eileen Reardon, who was killed while trying to cross a Hamilton road, told the court: "We do not want that man to carry the burden of what happened for the rest of his life. She would want him to get on with the rest of his life. He is so young, and that is what I want for him too."

We've seen forgiveness of a sort that's, let's say in character for the aggrieved organisation, when The Breakthrough Church members who suffered burglaries from a drug-addicted employee, collectively forgave her. Also in circumstances far, far more challenging, such as the Christchurch community worker who went on to visit her rapist in prison once a week and supported him in his parole bid.

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What would you do in any of these circumstances? Many would hope never to be in a position where they might find out for certain. But by any measure forgiveness is a powerful thing. Restorative justice advocate and Auckland lawyer Helen Bowan has said that where forgiveness has occurred there's a sense of relief and completion, a certain lightness which seems to help people move on to the next stage of grieving.

Hope so.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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