I had only been in Brazil a few hours when I heard this most astonishing story about the power of language to transform a life. Eating lunch overlooking this beautiful little bird sanctuary, I met Susan McKenna, now a firefighter, who told me an unforgettable story from her time as a lawyer working in the juvenile justice system.
What prompted the story was a chat about "Restorative Justice" practices used to help the accused reintegrate and, at times even allow for exchanges between them and the victims. At the very least, these conversations allow for more emotional processing than typical justice processes.
Susan told the story of two young kids, teenagers, who on a dare harassed a woman. The harassment got out of control and the teenagers ended up shooting and killing the woman.
Decades later, the woman's mother met with one of the teenagers who had been imprisoned during this time. She forgave him and then he told her the most astonishing story about her daughter.
When two boys had the woman on her knees with the gun to her head, her daughter said right before they pulled the trigger, "I forgive you and Jesus will too."
The now adult man never forgot the woman's words. He had felt terrible about what he had done and remained haunted by her kindness.
The daughter's words did not save her life, but they seem to have touched the man's heart and arguably saved his.
Had the mother not agreed to meet and forgive this man, she likely would never had heard about the beautiful forgiveness offered by her daughter. And neither would we.