The freedom of forgiveness

In the face of profound loss, how did two parents find it possible to forgive? Simon Smart reflects on his interview with the Abdallahs.

I recently interviewed Danny and Leila Abdallah for our Life & Faith podcast and I can’t stop thinking about them. They came in to talk about i4give day. This is their initiative honouring three of their children, Antony, aged 13, Angelina, 12, and Sienna, 8, who were killed, along with the children’s 11-year-old cousin Veronique when a drunk driver ploughed into the group as they walked along a suburban footpath in Sydney’s West two years ago this week. 

Famously, just days after the incident, the Abdallahs publicly forgave the driver and said they refused to hate him. That sentiment has not abated in the time since, and their i4give day (and week) encourages people to find it in their hearts to forgive someone who has hurt them. Also, to forgive themselves. 

Danny and Leila Abdallah want us all to know that enacting forgiveness, even for something as momentous as they experienced, is a life-giving act. 

“Forgiveness has allowed us to heal and grow together as a family,” says Leila. “[It] has given us the freedom from anger and resentment and bitterness.”

Central to their story is their faith in the one who called his followers to “love their enemies”, and the Abdallahs believe that in acting this way they are in harmony with the creator of all things. 

In that sense they think of forgiveness as natural in a way that, I must admit, I never have. Forgiveness is easy to talk about. Harder to do. But there is something mysterious, beautiful, and compelling in the way this couple talk about their loss and the hope they have for healing and a future. 

“Faith works”, declares Danny, and it’s very clear that in their case, even emerging from an experience that’s so terribly sad, they defiantly avoid despair.