He does not remember the explosion.
He came to consciousness 20 feet away, as fragments of Ted Kaczynski’s homemade bomb continued to rain down. Shrapnel severed his nerves and arteries, and a nail ripped through his chin and lips, barely missing an eye. Multiple surgeries would follow to reconstruct his face and reconnect his nerves and tendons.
The FBI determined that this was the work of an unidentified serial terrorist they nicknamed the Unabomber. It would be nine more years before Ted’s brother, David, and his wife would read the published manifesto of the Unabomber and recognize the rantings as those of his brilliant but mentally ill brother. David Kaczynski called the FBI and his brother was arrested the following year.
Gary Wright used counseling and his Christian faith to arrive at his resolve: “I was never going to be the same person I was, but I could still be happy. I had to forgive this guy.”
Following his brother’s arrest, David felt the need to focus on the victims’ pain and not his own. He called each one to apologize on behalf of the Kaczynski family. Gary’s response was, “But you didn’t do this. It’s not your fault.”
The trial was held in Sacramento. During a break in the proceedings, David called Gary and told him he’d like to talk.
The two men met and talked for hours. They became best friends and, in a providential turn of events, Gary began to help David reconcile what his brother had done and to move past his own pain.
It was a wizened old landscaper in Nashville who first shared with John and me about pruning the dead branches from our beloved trees. Not only would this help ensure that they would not fall and harm someone, but it also removed risk from the living branches; in the event of a storm, they were more likely to be damaged due to the drag of the dead limbs. He also suggested that we remove dead leaves when possible; as long as they are attached, he explained, they rob nutrients from the healthy parts of a plant.
Years ago I read a quote that I have always remembered: ‘Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.’ Corrie Ten Boom, having lost everything dear to a maniacal regime, resolved, “Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free, and to realize the prisoner was you.”
I remember a distant relative from childhood. He carried in his heart past offenses from other people and nursed them, rehearsing the events at every opportunity. He spoke as though the infractions had just occurred, even after the offenders were long deceased. What a shame that the drag of past events robbed him of the riches of his life going forward. What a shame that he lived his life trudging through pockets of history that he could never change. What a shame that he never stopped drinking the poison.
Some scholars feel that Moses’ mountaintop commandments had come full circle when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. Listen to the only section that addresses our involvement: “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors...” In offering a pattern for praying, Jesus emphasized one prerequisite: that we forgive each other. He knew that we would be prisoners, otherwise. He knew there was risk and damage in holding on to the unhealthy branches.
Theodore Kaczynski did not apologize to his victims. When Gary Wright stood to address him in court, he looked him in the eye and said, “I do not hate you. I learned to forgive and heal a long time ago. Without this ability, I would have become kindling for your cause.” What insight from one who could have spewed venom and contempt. What wisdom he demonstrated when he measured the consequences of unforgiveness and found them far more damaging than the shrapnel. Gary Wright took a long look, made a permanent resolve, and lived the Lord’s Prayer. And, once again, God’s kingdom came in the heart of man.