As the crowd sat hushed and sobbing waiting for the eulogy, the speaker rose and went to the podium. Hearts went out to the memory of Cozette Degarmo, or Cozy as her friends and family liked to call her. As the speaker began, they all reached for their tissues and handkerchiefs because everyone in the room knew this one would be particularly difficult.
Cozy, only 16, had only recently received her driver’s license, but as a very trustworthy young lady who was beyond her years, her parents allowed her to drive to see the midnight showing of the summer blockbuster movie. After all, it was only a couple of miles away and school was out, so this was a good way to let her get out from under their wing a little, and they were happy to sit by the phone and to look out the window until she got home. Unfortunately, their little Cozy who lit up their world didn’t make it home that night.
The gavel echoed in the courtroom at the trial of Jake Knight who was driving the car that killed Cozette.
"Jake Knight," the judge began, "We are here to sentence you for your guilty plea to a charge of involuntary manslaughter?"
A young man in his early twenties wearing an orange jail jumpsuit rose from his chair. "Well, my lawyers tell me this is the best deal I’m going to get, so guilty is all I could say, I guess," he said with an aura of arrogance and annoyance.
Jake came from a rather wealthy family. They weren’t the richest people in town, but they always wanted to be, and they looked down on anyone who they found to be beneath them. Both of his parents worked long hours to create the lifestyle that they desired, and when they were able to live the way they wanted, they simply found something else to want. When they drove the cars they wanted, they wanted a boat. When they had the boat, they wanted a bigger boat. When they got a bigger boat, they wanted a plane, and they would do whatever they could to get it. From the beginning, Jake knew of no other way.
Clearly looking annoyed himself, the judge scolded, "By your own admission, you were tailgating this young lady and driving erratically looking for a way to pass on a double yellow because she wasn’t speeding enough for you. You did this while texting and did not see a curve in the road, and you hit her driver’s side door with enough force to smash her car in half and killed her. What do you have to say for yourself? Would you like to say anything to her family?"
"Look. It was an accident. I didn’t mean to do it. Maybe if she wasn’t driving like a snail this wouldn’t have happened. It’s too bad she died, but what about me? I made a mistake and I’m going to pay for it for years in prison. This is going to affect me the rest of my life. I’ve lost so much, and I didn’t mean to do it. Who hasn’t made a mistake?" Jake said dispassionately.
"Well, the girl’s mother has something she would like to say before we sentence you," the judge said while shaking his head, "go ahead, ma’am."
Cozy’s mother, Aimee, went to the microphone. Although it was clear to see that she was in an emotional agony, she carried herself with a simplistic composed dignity and elegance. Confident, yet humble. Shaken, yet assured.
"We loved Cozy with every fiber, every breath, and every thought we have. Sometimes I think that if only I could capture a piece of time that I could change this memory. Just a few seconds to put your car in front of hers. Just a moment to make the car hit at an angle that could save her. Just a thought that would have never let her go. But as we all know, the only time we can own is in our memory and when we’re gone that time is lost too. Cozy was everything to us. I don’t say this because I want you to feel bad. I say it to give respect for my daughter for what I’m about to say, even though I know she’d say the same thing. I forgive you Mr. Knight. May God bless you and be with you, and you find joy in your life."
Jake sat in his chair looking blankly. Many wondered if he had even heard what Aimee had to say, and she never looked to see if he did. She simply hugged her husband and they walked out of the courtroom and thanked the bailiff for opening the door. Jake showed no emotion. The judge sentenced him to the maximum allowable by law, and everyone went their separate ways. For the judge, the bailiffs, the lawyers, court reporter and anyone else who had been there it was over. For Cozy’s parents, the pain continued and life was never quite the same. For Jake it began a time of fear and captivity that more than inconvenienced his fast paced lifestyle.
Many in the crowd at the funeral looked at the speaker with contempt, but that was mainly because they didn’t know the words of Aimee Degarmo in that courtroom had changed the life of Jake Knight. Others knew the story, but still didn’t think he belonged at her funeral since he had killed her daughter so many years ago. But those who understood knew that Aimee would have wanted no one other than Jake to give her eulogy. Cozette had been her biggest joy, but Jake had become her biggest success.
"And that is how I found Jesus Christ," Jake said as he finished his story of how he met Aimee in the courtroom that day. "No, I didn’t fall to my knees in the courtroom, and I didn’t see a shining light, but I did hear her. Instead it ate at me day after day in prison. Day after day in my cell. This nagging thought that I couldn’t comprehend. People had never really been more than insignificant objects who were in my way. When I had the accident, I didn’t really care about her daughter whom I had killed or the family I crushed. Yes, I felt a little bad, but I didn’t understand what that did to a family because I hadn’t ever felt that, and I know that sounds like an excuse. All I really cared about was that I would lose my freedom; that I would be in prison with dangerous criminals, and I was just a guy who made a mistake. It was all about me."
"Then the mother of the girl I had killed approached to give a statement, and I’m embarrassed to say that I hardened even more. I thought she would yell at me and tell me what a horrible creature I was. I thought she would demand that I beg for forgiveness when my life was ruined, too. Who was she to scold me? I’ll tell you who she was—she had a heart like I had never seen, an honor that I didn’t understand, and a love that I had never felt and she simply forgave me. No strings. No parting shots. No pretensions of retribution."
"Here I am today a saved man. I am saved because Jesus died for my sins, and because Cozette died that night, and because God and Aimee forgave me. You see, as time went on and I couldn’t take it anymore—I’ll spare you the details because you probably have a good idea of what I was thinking—I finally contacted Aimee and said I was sorry and asked for her forgiveness. She told me she already had (didn’t I remember?). She was excited to hear from me for MY sake. This woman saved me. This was a woman of uncommon grace and the world would be a better place if we were more like her. I don’t know how many people she forgave—obviously for far less transgressions than mine—but I can assure you that 70 times 7 was far in the rearview mirror. I’m not going to stand here and say that she saved all of those people but I can without a doubt tell you that she saved me."
"So I think of that memory—that piece of the world or time that we want to own that remains when we leave this place—and that ray of forgiveness is hers. I’ll disagree with her one last time. She was looking to capture a moment that would remain until she left, but that ray of forgiveness is still here even though she’s gone. She changed the world, and that memory will last forever."
"Yes, no one has ever needed forgiveness more than me, but I’m here to tell you that when we ask why or how we can forgive another person even when they are unlovable, undeserving, uncaring, unrepentant, unknowing, or seemingly unforgiveable, I’d submit that we don’t forgive because it makes us feel better—where is the glory in that? And we don’t forgive because God tells us too—where is the heart in that? And we don’t forgive so we can be forgiven, too. We forgive because that person needs it whether they know it or not. Forgive because it shows how God forgives. Maybe you’ll save someone, too. It doesn’t get better than that."