The Hard Work of Forgiveness

A New York woman named Victoria Ruvolo was minding her own business one snowy night, driving her car down a New York motorway.

A group of teenagers out joyriding that night approached Victoria in the opposite lane of the same motorway. One of the teenagers, eighteen-year-old Ryan Cushing, reached into a grocery bag, pulled out a twenty-pound frozen turkey they’d purchased with a stolen credit card, and just for grins, lobbed it out the back window and into the lane of oncoming traffic.

That large frozen turkey smashed through Victoria Ruvolo’s windshield and crushed nearly every bone in her face. She almost died at the scene of this horrific accident – and she was in a coma for weeks. Ryan was soon arrested for the crime.

Victoria is no stranger to personal loss. The youngest of seven children, she had already lost two older brothers, a nephew, and a beloved brother-in-law in unrelated accidents and a murder. Then, when she was thirty-eight, her full-term baby died. Now this. If anyone had a reason to feel like a victim, Victoria fit the bill.

After several surgeries, months of recuperation, indescribable levels of pain, and permanent scarring, Victoria decided to attend the sentencing of the young man who had done this horrible thing to her. The judge gave Victoria permission to speak in the packed courtroom.

With a steady voice, she said, “There is no room for vengeance in my life, and I do not believe a long, hard prison term would do you, me, or society any good…I truly hope that by demonstrating compassion and leniency, I have encouraged you to seek an honorable life. If my generosity will help you mature into a responsible, compassionate, honest man, whose graciousness is a source of pride to your loved ones and your community, then I will be truly gratified, and my suffering will not have been in vain.”

In a public courtroom, she forgave him. She said, in effect, “Father, forgive him. Forgive Ryan; he had no idea what he was doing that night.”

Upon hearing Victoria’s words of forgiveness, Ryan broke down in the courtroom and wept. The judge was so moved that she sentenced Ryan to six months in prison and five years of probation instead of the maximum penalty of twenty-five years.

As Ryan was being led from the courtroom to begin serving his greatly reduced sentence, he stopped in front of Victoria, speechless, with tears streaming down his cheeks. She wrapped him in her arms and hugged him. “I was the last person to hug him before he went to prison,” she later recounted. Victoria did the hard work of forgiveness, and it changed the trajectory of Ryan’s life – and her own.

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