by ROSS POMEROY
AUGUST 27, 2013, 11:47 AM
On April 17, 2012, 21-year-old Chandler Gerber was driving down a silent, deserted stretch of rural Indiana highway on his way to work. As such, he didn’t see the harm in briefly trading text messages with his wife. Gerber also didn’t see the Amish buggy before he rear-ended it at 60 miles per hour.
The results were devastating: clothes strewn across the pavement, a crumpled buggy, a mangled horse, a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old dead.
Weeks after the horrific accident, Gerber received a letter from Martin Swartz, the father of the children whose lives Gerber had negligently taken. Here’s what it said:
Trusting in God’s ways, How does this find you? Hope all in good health and in good cheer. Around here we’re all on the go and trying to make the best we can. I always wonder if we take enough time with our children. Wishing you the best with your little one and the unknown future. I think of you often. Keep looking up. God is always there.
Martin and Mary Swartz.
Gerber had been forgiven.
This unbelievable resiliency and willingness to let go of resentment in the face of unspeakable tragedy is nothing new to the Amish. In 2006, 32-year-old Charles Roberts entered the one-room West Nickel Mines School in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania with an array of weaponry and ammunition, resolved to do evil. He allowed 15 male students, three parents with infants, and a pregnant woman to leave the schoolhouse, then lined up the remaining students — all girls, aged 7 to 13 — and shot them execution style. Five died. Roberts committed suicide.
Amazingly, just hours after the incident, the Amish community extended their thoughts, prayers, and forgiveness to the deceased Roberts and his family. Many Amish visited Roberts’ parents and widow personally and dozens attended his funeral.
“We must not think evil of this man,” the grandfather of one of the murdered girls urged.
For most Americans, the Amish way of forgiveness is difficult to comprehend. It’s sourced deeply within their way of life, which is grounded in compassionate, unyielding faith.
“…Rather than using religion to bless and legitimize revenge, the Amish believe that God smiles on acts of grace that open doors for reconciliation,” Donald B. Kraybill, a distinguished professor at Elizabethtown College explained in 2007.
But forgiveness is not only grounded in faith, but also in science. In 1996, University of Wisconsin educational psychologist Robert Enright developed a process model of forgiveness. It can be broken down into four phases: uncovering anger, deciding to forgive, working on forgiveness, and discovery and release from emotional pain.