Jonathan Klate: Sybrina Fulton’s forgiveness

Last modified: Wednesday, August 28, 2013

AMHERST — We wrestle with despair about the senseless death of Trayvon Martin, the stunning travesty of a trial in which he was in effect convicted in place of his killer, and the desperate state of our country, riven between forces of light and darkness.

I know something of the dark anguish of Trayvon’s parents. I feel I should have something to say, some glimmer of something like wisdom, or at least meaningful perspective, garnered from my own travail. Alas, I am both over matched and awed by their public grace and forbearance.

Our son also died at 17. Our boy and our family were on the front page of regional newspapers and journals for a year, cameras in our faces, buffeted by libelous projections onto his behavior and our own, as the manslaughter prosecution wended its way towards an eventual conviction. In the end, our existential realities are similar to Trayvon’s family, if not comparable.

When we suffer the sudden death of someone our love for whom is indistinguishable to us from love for life itself, who was in our arms one moment and torn away forever in the next, our anguish is so acute, our grief so physical, we may feel that we cannot survive this, that we ourselves must die, so insurmountable seems our agony.

And then comes a terrible moment when we realize this is not going to kill us. We are going to have to persist in a life transformed by tragedy that has seared a wound across the gossamer tissues of our soul. Our charge then, by God – whatever one conceives that word to mean – is to make a life of meaning that somehow includes this particular wretchedness that has become our destiny.

Here is some of what I have learned:

1. If there is a way out of the pain it lies right through the heart of it.

2. Forgiveness is the most powerful healing arrow in our spiritual quiver.

3. The way towards renewed wholeness is to bring as much good out of this awfulness as we can.

4. Our healing intention must be for others and the world, not just for ourselves, or it can never be deeply resolving.

Witness Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton.

“I wouldn’t have applied for this position, but I gracefully accept. I am going to do the best job I can and try to help other families.” Are there any circumstances under which she could forgive George Zimmerman? “Yes,” she says.

“The spiritual side of me knows that eventually I will have to forgive him so that I don’t block my blessings. I know that. Am I ready to do that now? I am not. That’s something I pray for. I pray for my forgiveness. Because just like I want God to forgive me, I want to forgive others. But, I’m just not at that point right now where I can say that I want to forgive him.” “God is healing my heart,” she says. Contrast this with George Zimmerman telling Sean Hannity without a trace of remorse, that he regrets absolutely nothing about his behavior that fateful night; not his projection of criminal intent onto Trayvon and his certainty that he was “up to no good” contrived 100% of paranoid delusion; not stalking him; not even killing him. “I feel that it was all God’s plan,” he says. Given the chance, he asserted, he would do nothing differently.

How appalling this smug, shallow, immature speculation on the nature of spiritual reality as a way to shrug culpability off his sorry shoulders and loft it into the sky.

The outcome of the show trial was hardly ever in doubt. The prosecutors did not want to prosecute. Surely no one can recall another murder case in which there are no witnesses save the killer who admits to shooting his victim point blank yet does not take the stand in his own defense, and is acquitted.


God’s will, say you, George? The heart of the God I know broke the moment you pulled that trigger.

The way out of hell for you lies on bended knee on the doorstep of Trayvon’s mother. When you are ready, go there. Own your culpability, utterly. Implore forgiveness. That must be the first step.

I have no doubt she would grant it, but you must first with true humility say, “I am tormented by sorrow for what happened and if I could go back in time I would not follow your son who we all now know beyond any reasonable doubt was innocently going home after buying some snacks.” And then offer a public expression of honor and respect to all black children, and a plea to our country that they all be cherished as the children of the God you say you believe in.

Sybrina Fulton wants us to “remain peaceful.” Forthright and steadfast in our truth, yet peaceful.

She has much to teach us all. Watch, Mr. Zimmerman. Watch America. Learn and follow.

Jonathan Klate of Amherst writes monthly about spirituality and political perspectives. He can be reached at


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