Thomas Wictor

Listen only to yourself

Listen only to yourself

Yesterday I saw a video about two close friends named Erik Fitzgerald and Matt Swatzell.

Actually, I watched only part of the video. I knew the second it started what it would be about: One man killed a loved one of the other man, and now the two are friends. And that’s precisely the story.

Firefighter Swatzell fell asleep at the wheel of his car, drifted into oncoming traffic, and had a head-on collision with Fitzgerald’s wife June, killing her and her unborn child. The Fitzgeralds’ baby daughter Faith survived.

Everyone handles misfortune in his or her own way. I’ve seen several of these stories, and they always make me sick. That’s the way I handle them. I would never tell anyone that they must or mustn’t forgive. However, the forgivers always tell me how I’m supposed to live my life.

Erik Fitzgerald is a pastor. Here’s how he views the world.

You forgive as you’ve been forgiven. It wasn’t an option. If you’ve been forgiven, then you need to extend that forgiveness.

No, if your religion teaches you that you must forgive, and if you choose to follow that tenet, then you forgive. The pastor is paraphrasing Colossians 3:13. However, I don’t use the Bible as my life-manual. I’m under no obligation to forgive anyone, even if they’re genuinely sorry. I make my own decisions about who to forgive.

And if I forgave someone for accidentally killing my wife and child, I would never, under any circumstances, become close friends with them. I find nothing admirable in Pastor Fitzgerald’s eagerness to befriend Matt Swatzell. As Fitzgerald himself says, he’s only following orders. He’s been told he must forgive, so he has. And he’s done a whole lot more.

Swatzell expected hate from Fitzgerald, but not so much love. He wanted to thank him for all he had done but legally couldn’t speak with him during the two-year criminal investigation.

The day before the two-year anniversary of the accident, Swatzell was in the parking lot of a grocery store after buying a greeting card to send to Fitzgerald. Just about to turn on his engine, he saw Fitzgerald walking into the same grocery store.

After an introduction, Fitzgerald told Swatzell, “I have a desire to want to be in your life.”

With counseling and Erik’s friendship, Matt Swatzell has overcome his anxiety and guilt.

“Part of the tug I felt and draw to Matthew was he was a good guy. He wasn’t a convict or on drugs. He was just a guy who got off a shift,” said Fitzgerald. “I felt it was my responsibility to encourage him and see the big picture.”

So Swatzell no longer feels guilty about killing a woman and her unborn child? Amazing. I still feel guilty about things I said forty years ago. A church created the video linked above. It’s promotion. Fitzgerald says that his actions are also a form of promotion.

It was his opportunity to practice the forgiveness he had preached so many times before.

The deaths of your wife and child are an opportunity? Wow. That’s one word I wouldn’t have applied to the violent demises of my family members. The reason I stopped watching the video was because Erik Fitzgerald has nothing of value to say to me. Here’s his concluding thought.

This has been just as healing for me too. I’ve taught on forgiveness and I know that forgiveness is not so much for the other person but for yourself.

Bingo. Right from the horse’s mouth. People who demand that we forgive are only thinking of themselves.

The reason I react so harshly and judgmentally to this story is because I forgave a very sinful man at great cost to myself, and after I did so, I was subjected to almost nothing but inane blather or insults. The stupidest thing I was told was that I forgave my father for myself.

Nope. Forgiving him didn’t bring me any peace. None. It didn’t heal me. There was a giant mess that I was given a chance to clean up. So I did. As we began this grueling ritual, the only person in my consciousness was my father. I didn’t enter into the equation except as the means of making him accept that it was time for him to die.

The hospice chaplain asked me to recount to Dad one of the worst moments of our lives. She said that he had to face what he’d done and take responsibility for it. Since this was part of the cleaning-up process, I complied. In front of a stranger, I laid myself bare while my comatose father jerked and winced. It was the most repulsive, ghastly, excruciating ninety seconds I’ve endured.

I was six when it happened. The movie Alien has a scene that gave me a PTSD episode because it recreates part of the terrible connection Dad and I shared. Captain Dallas is crawling around in the air shaft with a flamethrower, of all things. I wasn’t armed with a flamethrower that night in Venezuela. If I had been, Dad would’ve met his maker forty-five years earlier than he did.

All you need to know is that I ran outside to escape him. He came after me, his size-thirteen leather-soled shoes pounding on the cement of the sidewalk that circled our house. Loaded down with keys, coins, mechanical pencils, and pens, he sounded like a sleigh tumbling end over end behind me, a jingling, crashing, thudding cacophony. Then he simply vanished.

There was no way I could go back into the house; every room was a trap. I crept around to the fence separating our yard from the the neighbors’. My intention was to hide in the deep shadows. As I passed the bushes under my bedroom window, I heard a clink. When I looked toward the sound, I saw a flash in the leaves. Just as I realized that it was streetlight reflecting off glasses, indicating that my father crouched there in the blackness, he exploded out at me with a roar. And he got me.

I finally did a painting of it, something I thought I’d never make public.

Alien

I’m posting it to give a tiny inkling of what I carry with me, and because I’m really tired of people telling me what I have to do or that I don’t know my own motivations. The reasons I forgave are that my father’s remorse was sincere, and by accepting his belated apology, I could help him stop living so that he’d head off to wherever he went. Neither God’s commands nor my own needs played a part.

There must be millions of people like me. To all of you, I say listen only to yourself. If you can forgive and want to, then forgive. If you can’t, then it’s perfectly fine. You are not required to forgive. Some crimes are unforgivable.

If Mike Albee and Lura Dold came crawling to me on their hands and knees, I wouldn’t forgive them. How do you forgive people who raped you for seven months for a measly $40,000? I honestly believed that they had my best interests at heart and cared about me as a person. I didn’t think we were friends or family, in that cloying Wal-Mart way, but I was convinced that they had empathy for the fact that both my parents committed suicide, I’ve lost everything I ever loved, I’m incurably ill, and my best book has been a catastrophe.

No. I just was a catch. They couldn’t believe their luck in landing this fat, PTSD-laden, dizzy, confused, trusting, brain-fogged fishie who paid and paid and paid without ever getting suspicious. I truly wasn’t suspicious until Scott Thunes informed me that Mike and Lura are frauds.

Today a guy told me that Mike and Lura use the address at Sandpiper Publicity as a drop box. They don’t even work there. No idea if that’s true. But now that Mike is officially recognized as a con man, I can say whatever I want about him. Watch: Mike Albee was once married to a 1997 Toyota Corolla. They had three children but got divorced when Mike took up scatolia, his only passion besides defrauding. He practices his pastime on Lura, who’s his enthusiastic canvas.

I don’t hate Mike and Lura. But I can’t forgive their crimes.

It’s not a deficit on my part. I forgive based on several criteria. Mike and Lura meet none of them, and they never will. So all you people telling me that I have to forgive, mind your own business. You forgive who you want, and I’ll forgive who I want.

Do we have a deal?

1970


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