Thursday, December 15, 2005

Beliefnet's Most Inspiring Person, 2005

After narrowing the field to the final three candidates by reader votes, the editors have chosen Victoria Ruvolo as Beliefnet's Most Inspiring Person of 2005.

Victoria Ruvolo, the Long Island woman who urged a judge to deal leniently with her assailant, got more votes than Rick Warren, the mega-preacher and best-selling author who is now giving away most of his money to help fight disease, illiteracy, and poverty in Africa. David Rozelle, an American soldier who lost his foot in Iraq and then returned to combat, beat out rock star-activist Bono, despite his work with world leaders to combat global poverty and injustice.

Victoria Ruvolo: Compassionate Victim

If a stranger brutally injured you, would you show mercy to your attacker? Victoria Ruvolo did exactly that in October, 2005, at the sentencing of Ryan Cushing, a 19-year-old whose "prank" had nearly killed her. Ruvolo, 45, of Lake Ronkonkoma, New York, was on her way to hear her niece sing in a recital when her car passed Cushing's. He was riding with five other teens who had just gone on a spending spree with a stolen credit card at a nearby supermarket. One of their purchases? A frozen, 20-pound turkey.

Cushing decided to toss the turkey into oncoming traffic, and when he did, it smashed through Ruvolo's windshield, crushing her face.

It took 10 hours in the operating room at Stony Brook University Hospital, a medically induced coma, and a month in the hospital before, miraculously, Ruvolo was able to go home. She still had a tracheotomy tube. Months of painful rehabilitation followed.

During her ordeal, Ruvolo was in touch with Cushing, who wept and expressed remorse for his action. At his sentencing on October 17, 2005, Ruvolo asked the judge for leniency. Part of her statement read: "Despite all the fear and the pain, I have learned from this horrific experience, and I have much to be thankful for... . Each day when I wake up, I thank God simply because I am alive. I sincerely hope you have also learned from this awful experience, Ryan. There is no room for vengeance in my life, and I do not believe a long, hard prison term would do you, me, or society any good."

Cushing was sentenced to six months in jail. He could have gotten a 25-year prison sentence had Ruvolo not intervened.

She saved that kid's life by showing such amazing compassion. Twenty-five years in prison would have ruined his whole life.

I have to admit that I voted for Rosa Parks and Bono in the early rounds, neither of whom made it to the final three, thinking that their influence was greater and the results more tangible in solving some of the world's problems.

But how do we measure influence and results. Surely Ryan Cushing can think of no greater impact on his young life than Ruvolo's lesson in mercy. How many among us can say we would show the same level of compassion and concern?

It seems to me that readers responded to the intimacy of the actions some of the candidates demonstrated. We can visualize and understand the significancegance and challenge of forgiving someone who has harmed us. It is nearly impossible to conceive of the work Bono is doing to end world hunger. Since many of the voters are undoubtedly white, middle-class Americans, it's equally challenging to understand just how important it was for Rosa Parks to stand her ground.

Still, Ruvulo offers us all a chance to learn about compassion and forgiveness. The world can use a lot more of both of these qualities.

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