Judge Socrates “Pete” Manoukian had good reason to hate the rogue Afghan policeman who shot and killed his son, Capt. Matthew Manoukian, in Afghanistan in 2012. Addressing the Rotary Club of Los Altos Feb. 6, he recounted vivid details of the horrific day he opened his front door in Los Altos Hills to a group of U.S. Marines ready to deliver the news of his son’s death.
These days, however, Manoukian said he feels no hatred toward his son’s killer. If he were to meet that man now, he said, he would instead ask, “What was going through your mind when you shot a man who was helping you and your people?”
The power of forgiveness has played an important role in the Manoukian family’s acceptance of the tragedy.
Manoukian shared his story as he introduced Carl Ray, polio victim and abused child turned engineer, comedian and motivational speaker. Discussing the power of forgiveness, Ray described the sense of freedom he experienced by forgiving those who had wronged him throughout his life.
As an 18-year-old in Butler, Ala., the African-American Ray responded to a white man’s questions with “yes” and “no” instead of the expected “yes, sir” and “no, sir.” For Ray’s act of “disrespect” in the Deep South, the white man beat him severely and subsequently went to Ray’s house and fatally shot his father eight times as Ray looked on helplessly. Asked by the Rotary Club audience why he had answered “yes” instead of “yes, sir,” Ray said, “Maybe I had a Rosa Parks moment.”
Ray carried a heavy burden of guilt as a result of his father’s death.
After graduating from Tuskegee Institute as an engineer and moving West for employment at Lockheed Missiles and Space Co., Ray later worked as a taxi driver while pursuing his dream of being a comedian.
Near Hollywood, he picked up a fare who changed his attitude. Ray happened to meet a man three times in the same day and decided that it was not a coincidence, but a spiritual message. However, when the rider admonished him to “get on with your life,” it angered Ray so much that he stopped the taxi and insisted the man get out.
Shortly after, Ray decided to forgive the rider, and in turn forgave the man who murdered his father years earlier. He said it was the “most peaceful, spiritual moment of my life.”
Ray said he continued to forgive the many people he thought had wronged or insulted him throughout his life. His message was, “It’s not about the kid who did it to you, it’s about you letting go.” He would contact former friends by phone, saying, “Susie, I forgive you for what you did to me, in my mind.” As a result, Ray said he felt release from depression, high blood pressure and anxiety.
Marlene Cowen is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos. For information, visit LosAltosRotary.org.