One of my favorite mentors during my time in medical school was a pediatrician who taught me not by words, but by deeply personal actions, about the power of forgiveness.
James Upp, M.D., was a deeply spiritual man and was superbly competent as a physician. I loved the rotation I spent in his office.
I enjoyed both watching him work and observing how very much he enjoyed his work and his patients—a joy exceeded only by the joy he received from his relationship with his God and his family. He deeply loved them all.
One fateful evening, his youngest daughter, Diane, was driving down a lonely road. A car approached her, and as it passed, one of the young men in the car tossed a concrete block at her car.
The block crashed through the windshield of Diane’s car at over ninety miles an hour, instantly snuffing out her precious life.
The boys were apprehended and charged with homicide.
While they were in jail, something happened that shocked them, their parents, and our town. Dr. Upp visited the parents of the boys to share in their sorrow and to offer them—face-to-face—his forgiveness.
Then he stunned even his closest friends by going to the jail to visit the boys and to let them know that he had forgiven them.
Why would Dr. Upp do such a thing?
Dr. Upp knew in his heart and then placed into action, his belief that hatred is most harmful to the person who hates. He knew he had to let go of his anger and resentment and blame. Then, and only then, could he heal.
By forgiving the boys who had killed his daughter, Dr. Upp was not letting them off the hook.
He knew that they would and should face punishment and suffer consequences for their actions. However, after the boys were convicted, he took the witness stand to ask the judge for mercy in the sentencing.
He had spent time with these boys. He had seen them weep inconsolably for having taken from him one of his most precious blessings. He had seen their remorse and their sorrow. He trusted that his God would take this tragedy and create good.
Dr. Upp had learned that the one responsible for judging other human beings was not him but God. He was willing to trust that all vindication would be God’s, not his.
Witnessing Dr. Upp’s attitudes and actions forever changed me. He demonstrated one of the most important keys to being highly healthy — learning the power and healing of forgiveness.
Dr. Upp died recently. I miss him. He loved his son and daughters. He loved life. He loved me. He lived and died a highly healthy person
This story is excerpted from my book, 10 Essentials of Highly Healthy People (hardcover), which was updated as 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and Staying Highly Healthy (softcover).
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