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.
One night 13 years ago a wound was opened in the dark, in a place deep in the abdomen that surgeons call the seat of the soul. The wound was a subterranean river, and it was not closed off until there was no more blood to lose. Professional athletes have done many terrible things over the years, but this was probably the worst. An unborn boy lay in the dark near the rising lake of his mother's blood, and soon he would join her on the brink of death.
The mother had a mother, and this story is about her. She came from the Piedmont of North Carolina, with its valleys full of corn and cotton, and her people were good and prosperous. You can go to Kings Mountain today and find Jack Adams Road, named for her father. He was one of six brothers who sang in a gospel group and worshipped in a redbrick edifice called Mount Olive Baptist Church. You can go to this church today and see the place where Saundra Adams grew up. That is her name. Saundra Adams. What she learned at Mount Olive was an overwhelming sense of gratitude for life. The sense that you don't wake up unless God opens your eyes, don't see the rising sun unless God pulls it from the horizon, don't put food in your mouth unless God helps you hold the fork. And you do all these things and you rejoice.
Saundra was 16 when she and a boy gave in to their desires, and she was 17 when Cherica was born. About to start her senior year in high school. Saundra's father was plowing his cornfield when she went into labor, and he wanted to finish, so they were late to the hospital. There Saundra was in the backseat of that Chevy Caprice, trying to hold Cherica in, and Cherica kept coming, and Saundra kept holding, and Cherica kept coming, and from the day she was born to the day she died she had a bald spot on top of her head about the size of her mother's fingertip.
It was 1975 in rural North Carolina. A girl in this situation was expected to move away or at least quit school. But they were Adamses, hardworking, successful, and her mother and father expected her to graduate. They would help with the baby. They were disappointed by her reckless behavior, but Jack was thrilled for another chance to sustain the Adams bloodline. He took Cherica riding on his tractor and told her she would have many children.
After graduation Saundra's parents said, Go on to college. Make something of yourself. We'll keep Cherica. You can see her every weekend. So Saundra did. She got a psychology degree from UNC-Charlotte and a good job in personnel at IBM. And she brought Cherica to Charlotte to grow up.
Cherica grew up fast, and soon she was living a fast life. She had these deep brown eyes and this willowy frame, and the men took note. She modeled in clothing advertisements and sold real estate. She earned enough to buy a black BMW and a red Mitsubishi coupé. She danced at the Diamond Club and ran in the circles of the newly rich. She mingled with the Hornets and the Panthers, and one day at a barbecue in the summer of 1998 she met a young wide receiver named Rae Carruth.
What did Cherica Adams know about Rae Carruth? He certainly looked like a good catch. Even Saundra found him handsome and charming. Five-foot-eleven, 194 pounds; strength of a running back, speed of a sprinter. He had come out of a rough neighborhood in Sacramento without a mark on his record. At Colorado he was perhaps the best deep-route receiver in college football, but he saw himself as an intellectual. He was the Panthers' first-round draft pick in 1997, and he had the talent to be a superstar if he could just stop getting injured. If football didn't work out, he could fall back on writing novels, writing screenplays, directing films.