Cooper & I sat on deck 7 chatting after day shift.
When I first met Cooper, I really noticed the burns that covered almost his entire face. But as he casually shared the story of his life, mixed with moments of sadness and smiles, I didn't even notice.
C S Lewis said
"You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body."
I'd have to agree. Our physical bodies aren't who we are. They are temporary cases. And yet we so often judge and categorize one another strictly by what we see. Cooper knows what that feels like.
As we sat outside Cooper pointed to a ship in the distance,
"I used to work on that ship."
He use to do a lot of things before his accident. But the burns on his neck didn't allow him to turn his head the the tightness of his arms forced him to keep his hand in his pocket when he walked.
As we sat outside he recounted his journeys during the war. He had moved around the entire country, hiding, separated from his parents at times. At one point when he was separated from his parents, an aunt had sent word to them that Cooper was still alive. They said they would not believe it unless they saw a photo of him. Somehow, someone from the Red Cross was able to send an recent photo to his parents, assuring them that he was indeed alive.
Last year, someone tried to steal Cooper's mother's motorbike. He was able to stop them and get the bike back. However, he had rubbed someone the wrong way in the process. He had been worried that this man might return to harm him. He did.
One night after dark Cooper was talking to a group of friends outside. Realizing this man was approaching him, he turned to face him and was doused by a cup of "water acid".
The moment that would forever change his life.
Cooper didn't even know his offender. But he says, "He was an evil man." The man was caught and rightfully put in prison.
But now he is free.
After hearing his pastor talk about forgiveness Cooper went to the prison that held "the evil man," and requested he was released. No one at the prison wanted him released but because it was Cooper's wish they consented.
When Cooper talks about the man who caused his suffering there is no bitterness or hostility in his eyes.
"He is scared of me. His uncles and friends have been to my house many times to apologize. He thinks I am going to take revenge on him but I am not going to. It is over. One day I think I will just go visit him."
I was amazed and humbled as I listened to Cooper speak. He was very disfigured. He had experienced physical and emotional pain. He could no longer be employed due to physical weakness and community rejection. And he chose to extend grace to the man who had birthed his sorrows.
I asked Cooper if we could take a picture together. He hesitated but consented, wanting a photo to "carry home". Before his accident he probably would have loved to have his photo taken. He would have looked strong.
He doesn't look so strong now but strength is not something to be measured by a photo.
He's one of the strongest people I have ever met.