For what it’s worth: A question of forgiveness

OXFORD, England – Perhaps some of you have heard of a certain incident at Dartmouth about a year and a half ago. It involved a first-year student, his computer and about 90 megabytes of child pornography. It seems this student had downloaded this material onto his computer for his own use. His roommates found out about it and informed the police and the administration. The next week this student had his face on the front of the Dartmouth newspaper, his college career fundamentally changed.

This student had been quite active in the Boy Scouts, but he is no longer. He had been involved in organizing his church’s youth group, but he is no longer. He had been an average student at Dartmouth, certainly no longer. Perhaps this is rightly so.

I went to high school with this student back in Virginia. He had been a relatively normal guy, a swimmer, and a good student. We weren’t good friends, but we knew each other. After graduating we wished each other well. We didn’t really stay in touch, but I saw him from time to time in passing over the summer. We each left for school and that’s really the last I heard of him until now.

While scheduling a tutorial with a professor I noticed in his schedule book a name that I recognized. I asked my tutor whether that student was an American and if he went to Dartmouth. He answered both in the affirmative. I asked my tutor to describe him and he did. It was clearly the same person.

At this point I had myself a dilemma. I knew this guy was here, but he did not know I was here and I was not sure if that might be just how I wanted to keep things. This student was a convicted pedophile, what society would call a deviant. He had done something I found abhorrent, more than abhorrent. I was disgusted. I couldn’t even begin to understand how I would feel if I had children.

Yet at the same time I knew the efforts he had gone to change this situation. He had sought counseling, had gone through a form of rehabilitation. I knew that the one thing he wanted more than anything else was to put the past in the past and try to return to some type of normal life. I kept asking myself whether everyone deserved a second chance.

I never was forced to make that decision. I literally ran into him while finishing up a run one day. He asked how I was and I did likewise. He suggested having a beer at some point and I agreed. If my revulsion at his acts was so great, apparently it wasn’t great enough to cause me to say no to him face to face.

So now I’m off to meet him for that beer. I don’t know what I think about it and I don’t know what I think about him. I keep wondering if I should be forgiving him, but then I also wonder if it’s my place to be offering forgiveness in the first place. Who am I to be choosing whether he deserves condemnation or not? I guess what he needs probably is just a friend. Whatever the answer to the question of forgiveness, everyone deserves at least that.

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