This week, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu was on my mind. He pleaded guilty this week to dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm. Jaskirat Singh Sidhu was the man in the tractor trailer who blew the stop sign outside Melfort, Saskatchewan, the very moment that the Humboldt Broncos were passing through the intersection. In that careless moment, he killed 16 people and injured 13, most of them teenagers just starting their lives. In court this week, he had to sit and listen as the families of the victims of that terrible accident described the devastation he had caused – a small price, we might say, for the great pain he wrought. He came face to face with that pain, the agony of mothers and fathers, wives and children, now with gaping spaces in their lives, holes that will never be filled. Their love must truly bear the worst of things, endure the worst of things. And in the middle of all that pain, can those families, having lost love to grief, look at Jaskirat Singh Sidhu and see a man who deserves love? Should we even expect them to?
This passage from Corinthians is a favourite at weddings. My mother-in-law read it at mine. We understand why: this perfect love that it describes is inspiring. A love that is patient and kind, that bears everything – we want to promise that to someone else, and we want someone else to give it to us. Of course, it is impossible: if love is perfect, we are not. Even, and perhaps especially with those we love most, there are moments when we are impatient, irritable, and rude. Not one of us can claim otherwise. If you can, please share your secret. These words from 1 Corinthians are too high a bar for any of us to meet. They are aspirational.
But that is their power, isn’t it? One reason why we come here and subject ourselves to these lessons we cannot hope to perfectly follow, is that we aspire to do so. The gospel – and these lessons – set a high bar: they keep us looking up and moving forward, instead of down and backward. I suspect that many of the couples I marry hear that reading at their wedding and rarely return to it, at least not intentionally. But if it is the manual, if it is the high bar, then of course we must go back, and read it over, and ask: has my love been patient, kind? Have I been boastful, arrogant, irritable? Can I strive to bear – if not all things – then most things?
This week was also Bell Let’s Talk, the campaign to remove the stigma around mental health. In The Globe and Mail, a story about the Kids’ Help Phone also told a story of pain and endurance – that of young people across the country calling in about suicide, about abuse, about feeling alone. The counsellors explained that their role was not to give advice, but to listen; not to minimize teenage angst, but give it space. And they had the same advice for parents: just to listen, to accept what their children are feeling as their truth, and to help them come up with their own solutions. This is good advice for us in all our varied relationships. This is the kind of love that does not insist on its own way.
Perhaps it is both the easiest and the hardest thing to love those closest to us perfectly, or at least the best of all the rest. We are invested in this practice because we desire their love back. But as a community of faith, as people in society – and if love is truly the greatest of faith, hope, and love – then we must also consider how whom we choose to receive that love, and whom we choose to deprive of it shapes the world around us.
So, we have this man, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, who will now be judged by society, according to our rules. There is no shame, a Globe columnist wrote this week, in feeling sympathy for him. And indeed, a remarkable act happened when a few of those wives and mothers took the stand this week. They looked Jaskirat in the eye and they said, “I forgive you.” Not everyone could reach this place, and there should be no judgement in that. Love, as we are told, finds a way, and those ways are not all the same. But surely, we must ask ourselves: if those families, who have lost so much, can forgive, can offer this gift of loving kindness to the person responsible, what example to do they set for us?
Ultimately, while the second lesson never says the word ‘forgiveness,’ that is what underpins it all. To be kind and patient, to endure, to rejoice, not in wrongdoing but in truth, no to insist on its own way, love must forgive. In an imperfect world, inhabited by imperfect people, love can only exist if it’s guided by forgiveness. Not just of others, but of ourselves.
It is telling that for the most part, the Globecolumnist noted, Mr. Sidhu sat silently, listening to mothers describe the everyday moments that brought their grief crashing down in full force, the father who described selling his home because the family could not bear the emptiness of the rooms – their stories trying to bear this loss in their love. But when he was offered forgiveness, he wept. This pure act of love will not change the past; will not heal all the pain to come. But it has made the last line of our second lesson true. Faith is ours to nourish; hope is what sustains us; but love is the gift we give to others. And so, it is the greatest of the three.
In the middle of this Season of Epiphany—this time when we look to the light of Christ, may we give the gift of love we aspire to have for ourselves—the gift that God has so freely given us