Phyllis Trible has taught us that the Hebrew word for ‘mercy’ is the word for ‘womb’ with different vowel points. And so mercy, she suggested, is womb-like mother love. And it is the capacity of the mother to totally give one’s self over to the need and reality and identity of child. And mutatis mutandis then, mercy is the capacity to give one’s self away for sake of neighborhood. Now none of us do that completely. But it makes a difference if the quality of social transactions have to do with the willingness to give one’s self away for the sake of the other rather than the need to always be drawing all of the resources to myself for my own well-being.
So it is this kind of generous connectedness to others — and then I think our task is to see how translates in to policy…I think that a community or a society finally cannot live without the quality of mercy. The problem for us is what will initiate that? What will break the pattern of self-preoccupation enough to notice the others are out there and we’re attached to them?
Two Friends Who Could Have Been Enemies: Forgiveness and Mercy from a Mother to Her Son’s Killer
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The death of one’s child, I’ve been told by several people, including my grandmother, is something you never get over. My uncle Dennis died of an accidental gunshot wound when he was a young boy living on a farm outside of New Rockford, North Dakota. My grandma once said that she’d rather lose a husband or her parents before she ever lost another child again. Nearly four decades later, the pain is physically present, palpable and thick with grief and sorrow. It breaks my heart to think about it. And Dennis’ death was just an unfortunate accident.
So what Mary Johnson endured 18 years ago and has seen her way through is almost incomprehensible, but it’s a marvelous story to behold.
“I just hugged the man who murdered my son.”
In 1993, Oshea Israel was a teenage gang member in Minneapolis, Minnesota. One night at a party, he got into a fight with Laramiun Byrd — Mary Johnson’s only child — pulled a gun, and shot and killed him.
Convicted of second-degree murder, Israel was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Twelve years after his sentencing, Johnson asked to meet her son’s killer.
The experience transformed both Israel and Johnson. Now 34, Oshea has finished serving his prison sentence. They are friends working together to share their story.
In this interview from StoryCorps (audio above), they speak in loving terms about one another and talk about forgiveness, pain, and the love and mercy of a woman who embraces a man she could rightfully have hated.
Unnatural deaths caused by accidents are unbearable enough, but to lose a child at the willing hands of another individual, I imagine for most parents, might precipitate into bitterness, anger, rage. For Mary Johnson, it became a redemptive moment, an opportunity to transcend the violence. She founded From Death to Life, an organization that supports mothers who have lost children to homicide, and encourages forgiveness between families of murderers and victims. And, Oshea Israel, he’s going to college.