In this work, there are no absolutes — except one
This past month at Project Legacy was filled, as always, with situations that required thoughtful discernment and split-second decisions. It was a month of contrasts. My days often required that I make decisions that will impact the lives of not just the person in front of me, but perhaps the members of our whole group.
It was also a month where I was confronted with angry words from local politicians and skepticism by some who others would think would be supporters.
We live in a world where some would have us believe in absolutes—some offenders should not be forgiven or offered opportunities; if you work for social justice and human rights then you should work only with Democrats and not Republicans; that grace must be earned and offered only to those we have decided are worthy.
But in this work, these are not the absolutes.
This month, I wrestled with the request of a young man to rejoin Project Legacy. The crime for which he was found guilty and served his sentence is one that most in society would not forgive. He was also recently diagnosed with schizophrenia and severe depression and is now learning to manage these conditions.
I once asked a probation officer what other nonprofit or organization would serve this young man and others like him, and she shook her head. “None. Not one. There’s no other place than Project Legacy,” she said.
Here at Project Legacy, we are the place that takes requests. We consider. We hear out our young people. We grapple with unknown situations. We have the courage to contemplate in order to change systems, and most importantly, young lives.
I knew I needed to tell the group of this young man’s request to return to Project Legacy, bracing myself for the responses I imagined would be coming. The Circle listened, and first there was silence, then questions. The group was apprehensive, until one young person said these powerful words:
"Are we saying then that we are the ones to decide who can be forgiven and who can't? Is that for us to say? What would that be like to live in the world and be shunned forever? To have no place where you are ever welcomed? How is that right?"
After Circle ended, one of the young men came up to me and said, "Karen, you know this is hard for me. But I want you to know, I think he should be able to come to Circle. And I'll be respectful and I'll be okay. I think he needs a chance to be here."
Here, we risk vulnerability for the greater reward: love, compassion and grace, because in this work, these are the only absolutes.
We are grateful for those who choose love and forgiveness over hatred and bitterness. We are grateful for those who walk beside us, supporting us in love, and keep their hearts and minds open to learning, growing and encouraging our young people.
Love is the only absolute.