The Boy They Couldn't Kill

Go read Sports Illustrated's "The Boy They Couldn't Kill." It is far and away the best magazine story I've read all year and I'm pleased that we get to talk about it here at GetReligion. It's long and I can't begin to excerpt it in any way that gives it justice but the subhed to the piece is "Thirteen years ago, NFL receiver Rae Carruth conspired to kill his pregnant girlfriend and their unborn son. The child has not only survived but thrived—thanks to the unwavering love of his grandmother." The extremely talented Thomas Lake begins his story:

The English language has a million words, but only one for the two kinds of forgiveness. This is a major failure. The two kinds may be similar at the molecular level but they are far removed in magnitude. Like a candle flame and a volcano, an April shower and a hurricane, a soft tremor beneath your feet and the great San Francisco earthquake.

The first kind of forgiveness is the easy kind. Someone wounds you, and in time this offender comes to see what he has done. He returns to lay the crime at your feet. And when you reach down to pull him up a sort of charge passes between you, a cleansing force that refreshes both souls.

Candle flame and volcano. The second kind of forgiveness is a rare occurrence that becomes rarer as the crime grows more severe. In this case the offender gives nothing. He never comes to you. And when you go to him, he turns you away. This leaves you alone with your open wound and a solitary choice. No one will blame you either way. But the wound is yours to keep, or let go, and that choice may plot the course for the rest of your life.

We meet Saundra Adams, the grandmother. We learn her story, about her character, about the baby she got pregnant with when she was just a teenager. She made sacrifices to provide for that girl, Cherica Adams. She got a psychology degree from UNC-Charlotte, a job at IBM. She raised Cherica in Charlotte. Cherica grew up fast and lived fast, we're told. She met Rae Carruth and got pregnant with his child.

There's a lot to dig through here. And you really need to read it yourself for the full effect.

We get a sordid, horrifying and compelling account of how Cherica was murdered. And how her son survived. It's riveting. The 9-1-1 call Cherica made after being mortally wounded is just amazing. Seventy minutes after she was shot, Chancellor Lee Adams was born via emergency C-section. Needless to say, he came very close to dying himself.

Carruth, somewhat inexplicably, engages in a legal battle for his son. I'm making a very long story short by putting it that way. Many tears, many dollars, many years were spent fighting for this boy.

Let me give just an example of how religion is seamlessly woven into this story:

Saundra prayed for Chancellor's safety. She had a King James Bible, a gift from her mother more than 20 years earlier, cover held together with tape, and it told her that the shield of faith would quench the fiery darts of the wicked. She prayed some more. And she found peace.

Other reporters take note. We learn a lot about Chancellor's condition and his struggles with cerebral palsy. We're told that the reporter gets to meet him and his grandmother at a TGIFriday's. We learn how delicately the grandmother explains the circumstances of his birth to the young man. She puts the best possible construction on everything. It's amazing.

The framework for the story is, obviously, forgiveness. And that theme is revisited time and time again. It's worth reading. We learn that Chancellor's father declined to be interviewed for this story but we also hear from him and his version of events, so to speak. We learn about Chancellor's relationships with other people, from his godmother to his physical therapist.

We learn that Chancellor has inherited some athletic ability or will from his father.  Another snippet:

She could have filled him with hate, for his father and his Carruth blood; or anger, for the loss of his mother; or bitterness, for the loss of who he could have been. She filled him with something more powerful. He hardly ever cried as a baby, so quick was she to feed him and hold him and change his diapers, and as time went on he seemed to cry only for others. He would cry if one child hit another child, or at the suffering of a movie character, or when his godmother had a nosebleed. When G-Mom had food poisoning, so severe she had to crawl along the floor, there he was, crawling beside her.

She taught him that the rain was a shower of God's blessing, and he believed her, so that when his schoolmates ran inside to stay dry he just stood there and let it fall on him. She taught him that he could do anything, that he had no limits, even though a neurologist told her he would never walk or talk, and now of course he can do both. He can ride horses. He started sixth grade at the end of August. He makes his bed and cleans his room without being told. He wakes up smiling and goes to sleep smiling and in between he looks like the happiest person in the world.

And then it all builds up to this. The reporter is trying to see a bit of the family home. The grandmother declines. She says:

"I'm not gonna have anything negative to say about him," she says. "I thank him for my grandson. I thank him for my grandson."

here is a long silence.

"After what you've lost," you say.

"Like I say," she says, "you can focus on what you've lost or what you have left. So I didn't lose. I have my grandson. I have my daughter with me in my heart, always. I have her with me through Lee. So I don't focus on loss. I mean, I think she's in Heaven, with God, so that's definitely not a loss. So I've got a lot left, and a lot of hope left, and a lot to live for, and to be able to help my grandson to become the wonderful man he's meant to be. I haven't lost anything.

"Really, I've gained. I've been pushed into my role and destiny."

And this is the point at which I was just sobbing uncontrollably. There's more, including a powerful ending, but I had never seen a reporter show Christian forgiveness quite like this before. It was so beautifully told. Such a great magazine-length piece. Have you read it? You really need to read it.

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