I had the privilege this weekend to meet Bob Miller, founder of Texas Equusearch. In itself, the organization is extraordinary, having earned a place along others in the "God's love in action" series where I have highlighted some of my personal heroes. His organization searches for missing persons and is financed completely by donations. They have recovered many people alive. In other cases, they have recovered bodies, bringing the families the only things they can offer at that stage: support and closure. To hear him speak, Miller is deeply moved by his Christian faith. He is also moved by his own tragedy: some thirty years ago, his teenage daughter Laura went missing. It was over a year before her body was discovered. He knew not only the nightmare of having a missing child, but also how much room there was for somebody to be doing something more. He vowed to be that something more, that no other family should go through it alone, as his family had. So from his own tragedy, that organization was born. The organization did not come right away: first, there was the heartbreak and the devastation. Miller spoke movingly of how close he came to suicide. It's from that depth of anguish that he has come back.
So for all the hundreds of families he has helped over the years, he has never forgotten his daughter, Laura. Her photo is part of all the publicity work for the organization. His daughter's body was one of several found in a serial killer's dumping ground. They have yet to positively identify Laura's killer, but Miller believes he knows the identity based on the evidence and the police work to this point, regardless of whether there is enough evidence for a court case. What is his reaction to the thought of his daughter's killer? He feels sorry for him. He has read the man's childhood history, and feels compassion for him. He says he forgives him. (A photographer at the event where I met him was openly disdainful when Miller said that -- or was the disdain at the the part where Miller said he believes good is stronger than evil? Anyway.)
Knowledge -- loving with the mind -- led Miller to compassion. The mind has a reputation for being cold and detached. And here, that may have been the only thing that opened the door to understanding: the mind's ability to put enough room to breathe between itself and the visceral pain of having lost his daughter. He still feels that visceral pain, let there be no doubt. But with his mind at work, he was able to gain understanding, gain perspective, react with wisdom and grace rather than raw pain alone.
Real forgiveness comes from love. And compassion is built on understanding. So it seems that, if we want to forgive someone, we need to understand them: not excuse them, but understand.