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Forgiving the little things

Friday marked one year since the conviction of Dylann Roof by a federal jury.

For those who may not remember, Roof is the white supremacist who cold-bloodedly murdered nine people and wounded another during a June 17, 2015, shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He is currently serving life in prison without parole.

It was an event that left a mark on all who heard about it; a racially motivated crime in a nation already struggling with race relations. The fact that the victims were killed at a church during a Bible study by a man they welcomed with open arms added a greater depth to this tragedy. Compounding it was Roof’s total lack of remorse for gunning down nine innocent people.

Two days after the shooting, relatives of the victims, some of whom survived the attack, were allowed to speak directly to Roof at his first court appearance. One of them was Nadine Collier, whose mother, Ethel Lance, was among those killed.

Collier approached, tears running down her face, and looked at the man who murdered her mother. No one in the courtroom would have blamed Collier for condemning him, nor would they have any sympathy for Roof for what he was about to hear.

But as she cried, Collier did not verbally lash out at the man who took her mother from her. She did not condemn him with righteous anger or wish harm to come to him.

Instead, she said the following words:

“I forgive you. You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you.”

Collier was not the only one who forgave Roof that day. One woman, whose sister was killed in the attack, said, “We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive.” Others called on Roof to repent and said they would pray for him.

In the end, forgiveness and compassion won over hate and violence.

We’ve all been angry with someone in our lives, and knowing what that anger feels like, one can only imagine the strength it takes for people like Collier to forgive such a heinous crime. And while Collier found a way to overcome her anger and grief to say those words to Roof, many of us could never do that if something that bad happened to us. I know I couldn’t.

But, one thing I can do, and I believe most of us can, is learn to forgive the little things.

I’m just as guilty as anyone of getting mad about the little things, whether it’s a snide comment from a stranger, getting cut off by a rude driver in traffic, or reading an unpleasant email from an angry person. My wife could tell you all about how putting together a guest bed from IKEA made me speak in strange tongues.

The older I get, the more I find myself asking this question: Is it really worth getting mad about the little things? As much as I want to justify being angry about such things, the answer is always a resounding “no.”

But it’s not enough to not get mad. I have to forgive. If I don’t, I will still carry it with me, and that won’t do me any good. While I am nowhere close to having the strength of Collier to forgive something of that magnitude, I can start with the little things.

So, to all who have made me angry over the little things, I forgive you.

I even forgive you too, IKEA, for making frustrating furniture.

Austin Daily Herald Reporter Mike Stoll  can be reached at mike.stoll@austindailyherald.com or 507-434-2236