Is any crime unforgivable?
Marietta Jaeger Lane once thought so, and it's hard to imagine challenging her.
In 1973, Lane's 7-year-old daughter, Susie, was kidnapped from her tent in the middle of the night on a family camping trip to Montana.
One year to the minute of when Susie was taken, the kidnapper called Lane to torment her. But Lane had done extraordinary personal work for 365 days, and she was ready for him in a way he could not have imagined.
Lane no longer wanted to "kill him with my bare hands," she said. She wanted him to know that she was praying for him.
"It was like I was standing outside of myself, watching me, seeing that something incredible was happening inside of me," said Lane, 74, the inspiration for the full-length play, "Marietta," ending its run today at 2:30 p.m. at Concordia University in St. Paul.
Having no idea if her daughter was still alive, "I started asking him questions. 'What size clothes does she wear now?' 'Did you dye her hair?' I finally said, 'I've been praying for you every day. Is there anything I can do to help you?'
"He just broke down and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed."
He confessed soon after, not just to killing Susie, but to the murders of three other children. Two days after being jailed, he killed himself. He was 26.
It's a brutal tale. But thanks to Lane's fortitude and faith, it's a story less about tragedy and more about redemption -- of others and ourselves.
"She's in the mystic corner of faith that so few are," said Dean J. Seal, executive director of Spirit in the House (www.spiritinthehouse.org), a nonprofit production company based in Minneapolis. After hearing Lane's story, Seal didn't know if it would work as a play, "but I knew the story was really powerful."
Seal didn't just make Stephen O'Toole's play, "Marietta," work. He built a 10-day "Forgiveness 360 Symposium" around it, melding faith and science, philosophy and common sense, and deeply personal stories.
Included is the traveling exhibition, "The F Word: Images of Forgiveness," (www.theforgivenessproject.com), featuring lives turned around through the act of forgiving -- plus a few who have chosen not to.
Jewish comedian Ari Hoptman performs "Does God Forgive Nazis and Those Who Eat Pork?" Megan Wells performs "St. Francis Sings a Muslim Prayer," a true story about the holy man seeking understanding hundreds of years ago.
And in "The Most Bombed Hotel in the World," storyteller Jim Stowell explores the aftermath of 30 years of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
"After decades of killing each other, brothers and sisters of survivors said, 'We've just got to stop,'" Seal said. "Jim says you can't go into the field of forgiveness without a sense of hope. Love is the oxygen of hope."
After Susie's disappearance, Lane clung to hope. But she steeled herself for other possibilities. "As a Christian, I was called to pray for my enemies," she said. "I started out by giving God permission to let one good thing happen to him every day, such as, 'May the weather be right.' If he had Susie, I wanted him to be good to her. If he didn't have her anymore, I wanted him to have the courage to come forward.
"The more I prayed for him, the easier it became."
When David (she refers to him by his first name only) called that chilling night, he hoped to rattle her. But Lane slowly and calmly gained control. She taped their hour-and-a-half conversation, which the FBI used to match his voice. Her motive was not solely to draw out a confession. "I felt concern and compassion for him," she said. "That's the work of God."
Lane visited David in jail, just before he hanged himself. After finally being able to bury Susie on a beautiful October afternoon in 1974, Lane drove to the home of David's mother.
"I wanted to tell her I had forgiven David, the David she knew who cut her lawn and took her shopping," she said. "We just held each other and wept, two mothers who had lost their children."
In 1998, on the 25th anniversary of Susie's disappearance, Lane drove from her home in Detroit to Bozeman for a memorial service. Then a widow, she walked into a local church and met the man who would become her second husband. They now live on a Montana ranch. She has become a sought-after speaker on forgiveness.
Watching "Marietta" on opening night last week was painful, she said, as it forced her to face details of a horrible time "that I had totally forgotten." But she hopes the play will continue to find audiences who will, in turn, continue to consider forgiveness. At their own pace.
"You have every right to your initial rage and grief," said Lane, the mother of four adult children. "Forgiveness takes daily, diligent discipline. It's not for wimps. But hatred isn't healthy. Forgiveness sets us free."