You may not be familiar with English poet Alexander Pope, but you have probably heard of his famous saying: "To err is human, to forgive is divine."
As human beings, we are incredibly flawed. We sometimes hurt others even without knowing. And more often than not, it breaks even the strongest relationships. Then forgiveness steps in. We forgive not to condone wrongdoing but to let go of pain. Forgiveness is what makes us free of anger and the need to seek revenge.
You are about to read an incredible story of forgiveness. After a tragic car accident took his wife and unborn baby, this pastor did something that most of us wouldn't have the strength to do: He forgave the man behind the wheel.
After working a 24-hour shift, Matt Swatzell was heading home from his job as a firefighter paramedic. As he drove along the roads of Dacula, Georgia, the unthinkable happened. His car collided with a vehicle carrying a young mother and her 19-month old daughter.
Matt remembered the harrowing incident as if it just happened. He told Today:
“I can still see it. I can still smell it. The horrendous noise and the glass breaking."
The crash ended up claiming the life of the woman and the seven-month-old baby she carried in her womb. Matt was left devastated by the news.
Unbeknownst to Matt, the woman's widower was in a separate hotel room. That man was Erik Fitzgerald, a pastor, and loving husband to his wife June. The first thing Erik did was visit his surviving daughter, Faith. Fortunately, the toddler was left unharmed by the incident.
Erik could hardly hold back the tears as he recalled the moment he saw his daughter again:
"She crawled into my lap and then she just went to sleep. And I was thankful because I didn't have to pretend that everything was okay."
Prosecutors asked Erik if he wanted to pursue the maximum sentence against Matt. But he couldn't bring himself to do so. Instead, Erik chose to pardon Matt after realizing that too many lives were broken from the unfortunate accident.
“I remembered somebody said this in a sermon — in moments where tragedy happens or even hurt, there's opportunities to demonstrate grace or to exact vengeance,” he said. “Here was an opportunity where I could do that. And I chose to demonstrate grace.”
Pardoned for his actions, Matt was sentenced to community service and a fine.
The story could have ended there. But as faith would have it, Matt and Erik's path would cross again. Two years after the incident, they met a grocery parking lot. Matt was there to pick up a condolence card he was planning to send to Erik.
Though they never spoke during the trial, Matt and Erik had a two-hour long discussion that day. They continued to meet regularly, with Matt even forming a bond with the now 12-year-old Faith and Erik's children with his new wife. Together, they found peace in forgiveness and discovered the strength to move forward.
You can learn more about this inspiring story of forgiveness, redemption, and grace below.