There's a short list of people I would not invite to live next door to me. At the top would be anyone who's murdered one of my family members -- but Mary Johnson of Minneapolis, Minnesota feels differently. Her 20-year-old son was killed during a fight at a party in 1993 by 16-year-old Oshea Israel, and after serving 17 years in prison, Israel is now out and living in an adjoining apartment next to Ms. Johnson.
A 59-year-old teacher and a devout Christian, Ms. Johnson at first wanted only the worst for her son's slayer. But as time passed, she came to realize that the hatred she carried was eating her alive and decided she owed it to herself to meet Israel and see if there was a way to forgive him. Forgiveness is one thing, but moving him next door? Is this woman crazy, or a GD saint?
I'm going to go ahead and canonize her. She explained to CBS:
Unforgiveness is like cancer. It eats you from the inside out. It's not about the other person, me forgiving him does not diminish what he's done. Yes, he murdered my son -- but the forgiveness is for me.
After meeting Israel while he was still locked up, Ms. Johnson continued to visit him in jail until their acquaintance grew to a friendship. When his 17 years was up, Ms. Johnson introduced him to her landlord, and the two became the most unlikely neighbors west of the Mississippi.
And apparently her open heart and loving nature have inspired Israel to follow in her footsteps. He's still struggling to figure all this out, to forgive himself, and to move on as Ms. Johnson has, but he's working at a recycling plant during the day, going to night school, and spending his free time speaking at churches and prisons, telling his extraordinary tale of absolution. He says, "A conversation can take you a long way."
I'm starting to feel really forgive-y. Am I the only one? Ms. Johnson is inspiring me to go on a forgiveness spree and to move in next door to all the people who've done me wrong in the past few years. I wonder how my landlord would feel about a cheating boyfriend, a jealous ex-friend, and an unsanitary manicurist settling into apartment 14.
Ms. Johnson, excuse me, Saint Johnson, thanks for making my day. You bring a whole new meaning to the phrase "love thy neighbor."
Would you be able to forgive your child's murderer to the point where you move him in next door?
Photo via erules123/Flickr