I Didn’t Understand the Power of Forgiveness—Until I Caused a Devastating Car Crash

The car accident marred one teenager’s face, but it left no scratch on a friendship.

The Gift of ForgivenessPeshkova/Shutterstock

The summer I turned 16, my father gave me his refurbished ’69 Chevy Malibu convertible. Cherry red, chrome accents, V-8 engine—a gift wasted on me at that age. What did I know about classic cars? The important thing was that Hannah and I could drive around Tucson with the top down.

Hannah was my best friend, a year younger but much taller, almost five foot ten. “Hannah’s a knockout,” my mother always said. And sure enough, that summer she signed with a modeling agency. She was already doing catalog and runway work.

A month after my birthday, Hannah and I went to the movies. On the way home, we stopped at the McDonald’s drive-through, putting the fries on the seat between us to share.

“Let’s ride around awhile,” I said. It was a clear night, oven-warm, full moon slung low over the desert. Taking a curve too fast, I hit a patch of dirt and fishtailed. I then plowed through a neighbor’s landscape wall and drove into a full-grown palm. The front wheels came to rest halfway up the tree trunk.

French fries on the floor, the dash, and my lap. An impossible amount of blood on Hannah’s face, flaps of skin hanging into her eyes. They took us in separate ambulances. In the ER, my parents spoke quietly: Best plastic surgeon in the city. End of her modeling career.

We’d been wearing lap belts, but the car didn’t have shoulder harnesses. I’d cracked my cheekbone on the steering wheel; Hannah’s forehead had split wide open on the dash. What would I say to her?

When her mother, Sharon, came into my hospital room, I started to cry, bracing myself for her anger. She sat beside me and took my hand. “I rear-ended my best friend when I was your age,” she said. “I totaled her car and mine.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

“You’re both alive,” she said. “The rest is window dressing.” I started to protest, and Sharon stopped me. “I forgive you. Hannah will too.”

Sharon’s forgiveness allowed Hannah and me to get back in the car together that summer, to stay friends throughout high school and college, to be in each other’s weddings, and to watch my four teenagers fawn over her three younger children. I think of her gift of forgiveness every time I’m tempted to resent someone for a perceived wrong. And whenever I see Hannah. The scars are so faded no one else would notice, but in the sunlight I can still see the faint shimmer just below her hairline—for me, an imprint of grace.

Read on for 10 more inspiring stories of extreme forgiveness.

Jamie QuatroJoe McKendry for Reader's DigestJamie Quatro teaches at Sewanee: The University of the South. Her first novel, Fire Sermon, is available now.

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