Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


The final form of love

  • 04 February 2022
  How are your New Year’s resolutions going? One that probably didn’t make the list was: forgive more. But maybe it should have. I recently met a couple, Danny and Leila Abdallah, who have a compelling story to illustrate that, while challenging, forgiveness offers unexpected rewards. I interviewed them for a podcast and can’t stop thinking about them.

Two years ago this week, this couple’s lives were irrevocably altered. Three of their six children, Antony, aged 13, Angelina 12, and Sienna, 8 along with their cousin Veronique Sakr, 11, were walking along a street in Oatlands in Sydney’s West on their way to buy an ice cream when a drunk and speeding driver lost control of his ute and ploughed into the group. All four children died at the scene. Battle hardened police officers were brought undone by what they witnessed at what’s become known as the Oatlands tragedy.

These days it’s not unusual to be exposed to such unthinkable news stories (although this was a particularly harrowing one). What made this event really stand out was what happened next. In the days immediately following the incident, the Abdallahs offered a very public gesture of forgiveness and said they refused to hate the man responsible for their heartbreak.

A grieving mother reflexively offering forgiveness to the man who had so recklessly caused her loss made us all lean forward in our chairs. Guardian columnist Paul Daley wrote: ‘Wherever that love and forgiveness came from, millions of people … are pondering the beautiful, provocative mystery of it all.’

Forgiveness doesn’t come naturally to us. Revenge is much more instinctive. In her book Wild Justice, Susan Jacoby argues that revenge stems from ‘a need to restore ‘something missing’ — a sense of physical and emotional integrity that is shattered by violence.’ For Jacoby, revenge is natural and self-satisfying, and needs to be acknowledged as the legitimate response of the victim.

'Danny says they were determined that their surviving three children would not feel that the day they lost their siblings was the day they lost their parents too.'

Revenge and unforgiveness might be natural but are they desirable? Martin Luther King Jr felt the answer to breaking a cycle of destruction lay not in seeking revenge but in love and, importantly, forgiveness. Yale theologian Miroslav Volf helpfully explains that forgiveness is not about condoning, excusing, or forgetting wrongs committed against us. It is rarely a single act and more often a process. But