Detective Steven McDonald was just twenty-nine when he was felled by a bullet in Central Park. He wasn’t killed, but he was paralyzed from the neck down, and has spent the last thirty years in a wheelchair — his very life dependent on round-the-clock assistance.
Now he has suffered a serious heart attack, and as he lies in a Long Island hospital, he and his family need our prayers.
It was a hot summer day in 1986 when he confronted three young men and was shot. He was investigating a string of thefts, but ended up on a respirator. He spent a year at Bellevue, and then months more in a Colorado rehab hospital. He was newly married, and his wife was pregnant with their first child. Surprisingly, he eventually forgave his assailant, and has been preaching a message of forgiveness ever since.
Steven McDonald (center) and the author with Palestinian and Israeli peace activists in Jerusalem, 2005.
I met Steven and his wife Patti Ann for the first time in February 1997. I was writing a book about forgiveness and had been intrigued by his story: that of an Irish-Catholic New York City cop who reached out the hand of reconciliation to the young black man who nearly killed him, and who had, from any normal perspective, ruined his budding life.
But there was more to the story. Although by then he had already suffered more than a decade of disappointment and confinement, he could still assure me that there was a blessing in it all: that the shooting had stopped him in his tracks, and turned his life toward God.
In the twenty years since, I have stayed close to the McDonald family. I have watched his son Conor join the NYPD himself, and his wife win election as the mayor of Malverne. I have even traveled with him to Israel and Northern Ireland. But most importantly, I have been allowed to walk with him along an arduous journey that has traversed anguish, discouragement, and disappointment, but has also witnessed to the healing power of love, faith, and forgiveness.
Steven and I, along with fellow members of an organization known as Breaking the Cycle, have spoken to thousands of elementary, middle, and high school students in the New York City area — in hundreds of schools — preaching a message of love as the answer to hatred, and forgiveness as more powerful than revenge. It is this spiritual work which has kept him going, and which challenges and encourages me.
Only God knows whether or not we’ll ever speak together again, but one thing is certain: his indomitable spirit is going to live on. Pray for Steven and his family!
Read more of Steven McDonald's remarkable story here.