It is said that somewhere in Iowa, a small town’s football team still takes a knee before each game. The players and coaches join hands and bow their heads, and they defy the laws that tell them that they cannot pray together. It is rumored that they kneel together and recite the Lord’s Prayer.
“Our Father, who art in Heaven
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,
On Earth, as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us…”
His legacy is his faith.
Not the games won or the classes taught. Not the immaculately kept football field that we lovingly referred to as The Sacred Acre. Not the state championships or the pep talks or the speeches. Not the NFL players he groomed or the countless coaches around the state that he mentored.
A life’s worth of work and accomplishment pale in comparison to the gift of grace brought by his death.
“Please remember to visit the Becker family,” his son said in a press conference.
“Our opinion of Mark has not changed,” his family was quoted as saying about the 24 year old boy who took their husband and father.
And we followed their lead – his lead – the way we always have.
Facebook statuses were updated to reflect prayers for the Thomas family and the Becker family. News articles were written about the person Mark was before he became an alleged murderer. The grief and shock and anger mixed with compassion, the movement towards grace led by those who we least expected to be able to offer it.
I’m a Christian and a Catholic. I have heard about grace. I have read about forgiveness and been taught the meaning of faith.
But never in my life have I seen a more real, tangible example of these abstract principles.
Today, the funeral for Ed Thomas is being held at his church – a church I could see from my backyard when I lived in Parkersburg. The streets will be lined with cars. The pews and basement will undoubtedly be overflowing with mourners who have come to pay their respect for the hometown hero and offer condolences to the family he leaves behind.
And I will sit here, more than 1,000 miles away, surrounded by the trappings of my perfect life that goes on just as perfectly as it did last week.
I will not shake Aaron and Todd’s hands. I will not cry along side old classmates or rest my head on my mother’s shoulder. I will not hold my own brothers and pat them on their backs as they say goodbye to yet another father figure.
But I will honor his legacy in the only way I know how.
I will forgive.
Today, I forgive the man who hurt me. Not because he deserves it or because what he did ceases to be wrong. But simply because, I can. Because I, too, have been forgiven without being deserving.
Today, I forgive the stepfather who abandoned my brothers, abused my mother, and robbed me of pieces of my childhood with his violence and addiction. I don’t have the strength to shower him with love, but I can find the power to let go of the anger.
Today, I let it go. I remember that the grace required for these small mental acrobatics is but a mustard seed compared to the mountain of grace required to show compassion for the person who stole your father and husband. I believe that the faith and love that affords them this grace is as readily available to me as it is to them.
Today, in lieu of flowers, I forgive.