Tom Tarrants is an old friend for many years, a gentle and kind person who's life is a living testimony of the power of repentance, forgiveness, and redemption. Today he is the president of the C.S. Lewis Institute in Washington, D.C. But forty years ago he was someone else entirely - and forty years ago Stan Chassin crossed his path.
Here's an excerpt from the series. Please take time to read it all.
Stan Chassin goes to see for himself if Tommy Tarrants, the racist, anti-Semitic bully of his childhood, had truly changed after 40-plus years. The dramatic meeting of the two men brings a roomful of people to tears.
It was the week before Thanksgiving, and Stan Chassin, a 59-year-old Mobile investment counselor, had been nervous all day.
Earlier in the fall, he had heard from a friend that a bully from his youth was coming back to town. Tommy Tarrants had terrorized Chassin in high school by cursing him for being Jewish, grabbing him by the throat and threatening to kill him.
Chassin then watched from afar as Tarrants left school, joined up with the Ku Klux Klan and was wounded in a police ambush while attempting to blow up the home of a Jewish man in Meridian, Miss.
"I realized he could have killed me," Chassin says.
Tarrants was now 60 and returning to Mobile, not as a Klansman, but as a profoundly changed man. Years before, he had published a memoir, "The Conversion of a Klansman," and a decade ago had become president of the C.S. Lewis Institute, an organization near Washington, D.C., dedicated to helping people grow spiritually.
Tarrants was to be the guest speaker at a dinner at Spring Hill Presbyterian Church in Mobile.
Chassin, wary about what he had heard of Tarrants' transformation into a humble man of God, wanted to see for himself.
"My father always taught me to confront my fears," Chassin says. "I had a chance to unload my demons. But the closer I got to that day, I wondered, 'Do I have the internal fortitude to go through with this?'"
On the evening of Nov. 14, Chassin, a member of Ahavas Chesed synagogue, drove alone to Spring Hill Presbyterian and entered the church's Fellowship Hall.
When he walked into the room and saw Tarrants, Chassin had a flashback to high school. "I thought, he's not so big, I could have taken him!"
Tall and slightly stooped, Tarrants had no hint about him of the long-ago teenager's swagger or ranting anger.
As Tarrants was introduced by the Rev. Norman H. McCrummen III, Tarrants seemed to Chassin "almost frail."
Tarrants began by speaking of his pleasure at visiting his hometown and noted a task he had accomplished this trip - buying a cemetery plot for himself.
He did not say so during his speech, but Tarrants bought the plot next to his late father's grave. He had a difficult relationship with his dad while growing up, even hated him. But the father and son had made peace at the end, and there had been forgiveness between them.
With his gently modulated voice, and touches of a dinner speaker's humor, Tarrants spoke of his mission at the C.S. Lewis Institute. He talked about the importance of faith.Tarrants told of his slide toward militant bigotry, how he learned to despise blacks and loathe Jews. He talked about sin as "a cancer" that had come into his body and heart.
He told of being in a prison cell, of reading classical philosophy and Scripture, of a profound change in his heart as he came to understand the true meaning of God in his life. He spoke of grace, of forgiveness.
In the audience, Chassin listened and watched.
The grandson of a rabbi, Chassin had never heard what he sensed was God speaking to him directly until Yom Kippur at his synagogue earlier that fall. God was speaking to him about Tommy Tarrants. Chassin had been puzzled, even skeptical.
But now he believed that what God had asked of him on that Day of Atonement was to be fulfilled.
Tarrants finished his speech. He asked for questions.
Chassin hesitated. Then he stood.
"It's hard facing you," he told Tarrants.
Chassin began to recount his story of how Tarrants had grabbed him by the throat at school, called him "a kike bastard" and swore to him, "If I ever see you again, Jew bastard, I'll kill you."
A few others in the Spring Hill Presbyterian audience that night were worried, at first, about what Chassin might do -- getting even after all these years for the long-simmering aggression.
But Chassin remained calm, even as he told his own story of violence at the hand of Tarrants.
Chassin's voice got stronger; he grew calmer. As he spoke, he saw a look of pain on Tarrants' face.
Rev. McCrummen, watching, says he saw Tarrants "almost crumble. It was so obvious, the remorse of the memory."
Chassin told Tarrants that he had been in synagogue on Yom Kippur -- "praying very hard" -- when he heard God speak to him.
"God told me," Chassin said, "'You have to forgive him for what he did to you. And then, for all the hatred and disgust you felt toward him, you have to ask Tommy,'" Chassin's voice was breaking now, "'to forgive you.'"
The Fellowship Hall fell silent.
Quietly, Tarrants answered: "I appreciate you being so gracious and forgiving. I'm very grateful, Stan, for your having the courage to come and share your forgiveness."
Tarrants addressed the audience: "Isn't it amazing," he went on softly, "what God can do? God spoke to him."
Chassin walked forward and held out his hand to shake.
The two men embraced.
Chassin was weeping.
Tarrants, who had never had anyone approach him from his past like this, felt anguished to know of the pain he had inflicted on Chassin all these years. He wondered who else from his past might still be carrying old wounds, whom else he must still reconcile with.
-From Deliver Us From Evil: Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Mobile Press Register, January 8, 2008.
• 'I deserved to Die': Tommy Tarrants did plenty of bad in his life and saw cohorts killed along the way. Eventually, Scripture changed his life and helped him earn forgiveness.
• Forgive our trespasses: Stan Chassin goes to see for himself if Tommy Tarrants, the racist, anti-Semitic bully of his childhood, had truly changed after 40-plus years. The dramatic meeting of the two men brings a roomful of people to tears.