Breezing through the Salt Lake City airport late one evening in 2007, a newspaper headline caught my attention. Chris Williams' young family, going out for ice cream, was in a collision with an underage drunk driver. Cameron Wright's SUV, traveling at freeway speed, swerved into Williams' lane - the impact instantly killed Williams' wife, unborn baby and two children. Wright walked away.
Remarkably, the headline noted that Williams forgave Wright.
I spoke with Williams about that decision, which is depicted in a new film, "Just Let Go." Asked how he could forgive Wright for taking his family away, Williams said he felt an enabling power that provided strength beyond his own.
"For me, the secret of forgiveness is anticipating the issues beforehand," Williams said. "A year or so before the crash, I heard a story about a frozen turkey being tossed at Vicky Ruvolo's car. The impact shattered Vicky's face, nearly killing her, but when she met the thoughtless teen at a courtroom sentencing, she threw her arms around him and pleaded for a lesser sentence."
"Could I do that?" was the question on Williams' asked himself.
"After our accident, I started to play out in my mind a horrible response that may have been a just retribution, but rewinding the tape, I then thought about what a forgiving response could look like. Yes it has caused pain, but I decided, I forgive you."
Wright was a few months shy of 18 and looking at a 25-year prison term for his actions. Williams didn't want another casualty.
"I met him at the detention facility and encouraged him to pick a date to let it go, start a fresh life," said Williams. "Cameron has stayed true to that commitment, finished high school and college to go on to talk about the destructive consequences of underage drinking with young people. In 2012, I attended his wedding reception and saw the happiness on his face."
When we try to do good, it really does come back, Williams said. "Our ability to love others attracts others to love us."
A true gift for Williams, he says that forgiveness is something we can practice. If an offense comes, try to handle it in an optimal way. Practice on a daily basis and decide that if someone offends, try to look at it from an empathetic, best case scenario.
Give yourself permission to go through the process - it is okay to be angry or sad to work the issue on your own terms and timeframe. Williams lives his life in honor of his wife and children to keep their lives vibrant and fresh. He has since remarried, which has brought four more children into his life.
For people who see the movie, Chris has a takeaway: "Know that if that guy can forgive, I can let go of 'fill in the blank.'"
To ere is human; to forgive, divine.
"Just Let Go" premieres Monday, Sept. 28 nationwide via a Fathom Events in more than 500 theaters. See it - you'll think about the film's message long after the credits role and it may very well change your life.