Greetings from Medellin, Colombia. I want to share with you an incredible story that a 24-year-old young man shared with me yesterday. It's a story of forgiveness, redemption and hope. It's a story that connects us with the essence of life. What this story reminded me of, is that though the life of my friend was marked by unspeakable violence and terrible loss, his life is also an inspiring story of hope, resilience, and strength.
Once again, as I was listening to these stories, I had to recall what anthropologist Michael Taussig wrote about the culture of terror, which is that the space of death—where torture, killings, and disappearances happen—is preeminently a space of transformation; through the experience of death comes life!
Meet, Didier, a friend from Medellin. When he was only 11 years old, Didier witnessed the killing of his mother, a street vendor. Yesterday he took me to the spot where his mother was killed with 38 bullets. Dider was next to his mom when he saw her drop dead.
As a reaction to his mom's killing, Didier went down a self-destructive path and embraced a life of drugs, alcohol and crime for four years. “In drugs and alcohol I looked for the love that was taken away from me with the assassination of my mother,” he told me at some point.
In those years, Didier was also thinking about retaliation and vengeance. People in the neighborhood told him who the killer of his mom was. He was not living far away from Didier’s home. Planning his vengeance, Didier started collecting guns and even two grenades in his room. At night he would cry and think of how he would kill his mother’s assassin, but he never found the courage to do so.
The opportunity for change arrived when a friend, belonging to a Christian church, approached Didier. He was skeptical and dismissive at first but eventually accepted the words and the invitation of his friend. As he was realizing that the hatred he was harboring in his heart was consuming his soul and was killing him, he found the strength and the courage to forgive the man who killed his mom.
One day Didier saw the killer sitting on the the street curb. He joined him, sat next to him and asked him why he had killed his mother. The man broke down sobbing. Those tears were, for Didier, the confirmation that the man was the one who shot his mother to death.
Some time later, Didier ran into the man again. He went up to him and told him, “I don’t know why you killed my mother, but I forgive you.” Didier embraced the man, and the guy once again broke down in sobs.
Only recently did Didier discover that it was indeed someone else who had killed his mother. He learned it from a friend, who inquired if Didier had indeed forgiven his mother’s assassin. When he was assured, Didier’s friend confessed to him, “My brother killed your mother.” Since, Didier has been trying to find the whereabouts of the killer, because he learned that he is facing troubles. “I want to give him my forgiveness, and try to help him,” Didier told me.
For the past few years, Didier has been helping other youth who are facing trouble and problems. In a couple of months, he is planning of studying social work at a university. He has become an authentic and transformational leader. A source of hope and wisdom for many. “If I was able to change and to forgive, then others can do so as well.”