From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 11 - 11/10/99
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Making the Choice

If you were keeping abreast of current events the past couple weeks, you were informed on a daily basis about the Aaron McKinney murder trial in Laramie. McKinney, who was one of the men accused of beating Matthew Shepard to death, was on trial for his life and the whole country was watching to see how justice was to be administered in Wyoming.

In the days after the conviction and sentencing of McKinney, press conferences were held and repeated on the nightly news for the benefit of all that were not present at the proceedings. There were the usual statements by the prosecuting attorney and the defense counsel; the representatives of the watchdog groups from outside the state made their observations; Governor Geringer and even President Clinton weighed in on the outcome.

This violent act and all the publicity surrounding it have put Wyoming in the national spotlight for over a year. Much of the attention put forth cast a negative view of our state and the people who live here. But there is one person and one short statement that counter all of the bad press put forth.

Judy Shepard forgave McKinney. She and her husband suffered the most cruel and painful loss any human being can: the violent death of their child in a manner more horrific than most people could ever imagine. They have had to endure their loss publicly and have become standard bearers for tolerance in a world they would probably rather have just disappeared into after their ordeal dropped off the forefront of the national news. And yet, she found the capacity to forgive her child's killer in spite of all that she and her husband have been through.

Her forgiveness shows the rest of us what true humanity is all about. Her son was viciously murdered and yet she is filled with compassion and kindness toward her fellow man, in every sense of the words. Her heart aches for McKinney's family and she knows the pain they suffer as well. While everyone else was concentrating on the hate and the brutality and the ugliness of this act, Judy Shepard was digging deep down into her very soul to find something to hold onto. It is obvious that her faith in God is strong and that she believes there is a reason for all that has happened, though she may not ever know or understand what that reason is.

The media tried to paint Wyoming as a state full of backward, narrow-minded "rednecks" that have no tolerance for anyone different than themselves. Well, Judy Shepard showed them how wrong they all are, about most of us anyway. Her dignity, grace and compassion in front of the world represent what Wyoming people really are. Though she did not ask for this responsibility, she took it upon herself to show the rest of us what we have to do to live compatibly in a civilized society.

It is in all of us, this capacity to forgive. It is a choice we can make and is given to us by God for a reason. If we choose to try and understand the actions and thoughts of others and can forgive them if they hurt us, then we are not only being better members of the human race, but we are healing our own hearts of pain.

Most of us will never come close to knowing the feelings the families in this drama have felt or the suffering they will have for the rest of their lives. How can we dare not understand and forgive our petty, day-to-day differences with our neighbors, business associates, family or friends when there is someone among us who forgives the unforgivable?

Do we really have a choice?

See The Archives for past articles.

Copyright © 1999 The Sublette County Journal
All rights reserved. Reproduction by any means must have permission of the Publisher.
The Sublette County Journal, PO Box 3010, Pinedale, WY 82941   Phone 307-367-3713
Publisher/Editor: Rob Shaul