Detective Steven McDonald and his son, NYPD Officer Conor McDonald.
In a previous post I talked about miraculous healings that have occurred in the scriptures and throughout history in to this present day. I even shared some that I personally witnessed; but what about the person that doesn’t seem to receive a miraculous healing? Does that mean that God has ignored him or her or that God is not at work? First of all I think that God is at work in all things. Secondly, what we see as a lack of healing, or lack of a miracle, is just another way that God has chosen to work. Often the real miracles are those that are not apparent. I would like to give you an example of this in the Life of Detective Steven McDonald of the New York Police Department.
On July 12, 1986, New York Police Officer Steven McDonald went in to Central Park with Sergeant Peter King as part of their normal, everyday duties. They were on alert for petty crimes as well as looking for clues to a recent string of bicycle thefts in that area. They saw a group of suspicious looking teens who began to run as soon as they saw the police. The police officers chased them, Steven McDonald going in one direction, and his partner in another direction.
Steven McDonald stopped several of the boys to question them. He tells us that he spotted a bulge in the sock of one of the youngest boys and believed it to be a gun. He bent over to examine it and a tall 15 year old boy came and pointed a gun at the police officer’s head. Officer McDonald said that he then heard a deafening explosion, saw a muzzle flash and felt the bullet strike him just above his right eye. He immediately fell flat and the boy shot him a second time hitting him in the throat. Then, while still lying on the ground, the boy shot him a third time. Officer McDonald recalled, “I was in pain; I was numb; I knew I was dying, and I didn’t want to die. It was terrifying. My partner was yelling into his police radio: “Ten Thirteen Central! Ten Thirteen!” and when I heard that code, I knew I was in a very bad way. Then I closed my eyes…”
When the first officers to respond arrived on the scene, they found Sergeant King on the ground, covered in Steven’s blood, cradling him in his arms. Sergeant King was crying. They knew that every second counted so they carried Steven into the back of their vehicle and rushed him to Harlem’s Metropolitan Hospital, twenty blocks away. There the medical staff saw the severity of the shooting and worked hard to stabilize him. They did not expect him to live. The Chief Surgeon told the Police Commissioner, “He’s not going to make it. Call the family. Tell them to come say goodbye.” But Steven’s will to live stood firm. His survival is a miracle itself, but his injuries left him completely paralyzed from the neck down. He couldn’t even breathe on his own.
Officer McDonald had been married just eight months to his 23 year old wife, Patti Ann. She was three months pregnant. Together they would have to face the unbelievable changes that being paralyzed causes. Not quite fair for a young married couple. It would be very easy for them both to be filled with self pity, hatred and spite. But these two practicing Catholics decided to choose another course. At Detective Steven McDonald’s funeral, 30 years after his attack, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that Steven McDonald inspired New York City by choosing a spiritual journey over self-pity and spite. He inspired not only NYC, but the world. To me, Steven McDonald exemplifies how God can work, even in the worst of situations. I know it was a miracle that he survived, but there was no miracle to bring him healing of his paralysis. Perhaps the biggest miracle is what Steven did with his life.
About six months after being brutally assaulted with gunfire by Shavod “Budda” Jones, Officer Steven McDonald made a statement, through his wife, saying, “I forgive him and hope he can find peace and purpose in his life”. This defined the rest of McDonald’s life. Jones was sentenced to ten years in prison for attempted murder. McDonald said, “Strangely we became friends. It began with my writing to him. At first he didn’t answer my letters, but then he wrote back. Then one night a year or two later, he called my home from prison and apologized to my wife, my son, and me. We accepted his apology, and I told him I hoped he and I could work together in the future. I hoped that one day we might travel around the country together sharing how this act of violence had changed both our lives, and how it had given us an understanding of what is most important in life.” However, three days after his release from jail, Jones died in a motorcycle accident. That hope was never realized, but McDonald continued his crusade for forgiveness and peace.
The New York City Police Department kept McDonald on their roster in a special position. He was eventually promoted to the rank of Detective. Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association called McDonald “a true American hero.” At his funeral Lynch said, “Steven McDonald was the most courageous and forgiving man I have ever known. Despite the tremendous pain in his life, both physical and emotional, his concern for his fellow police officers and for the people of New York City never wavered. Since that fateful day in 1986, Steven dedicated his life to fighting hate and encouraging forgiveness through his actions. He was a powerful force for all that is good and is an inspiration to all of us. His, was a life well lived. We join his family, a true New York City police family, his friends and fellow officers in prayer and mourning the loss of a truly special man.”
The influence of Detective McDonald was felt not only in New York, but worldwide. He took his message of forgiveness and peace to Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Israel. He met with world leaders such as Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela. He spoke at two Republican National Conventions. He was interviewed by Barbara Walters on TV and attended many civil and religious functions in his area. I was fortunate to see and hear him and can attest to the fact that he was a man of deep faith, and love of God and His people. He was a die-hard hockey fan of the New York Rangers. His relationship over the years with them has been a source of real blessing to so many. The Rangers named an award in his honor.
About six months after the shooting, Steven’s son Conor was born. Conor followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and great-grandfather in becoming a NYC Police Officer. I have a good friend who is a NYC Police Officer who worked with Conor and praised him for being such a good person and good Police Officer. A family of faith and desire to serve keeps bringing forth good men. In an article by Johann Christoph Arnold, he states,
“When visiting Steven in his Long Island home (since meeting in 1997, we have become close friends), I am often struck by the extent of his incapacitation. Life in a wheelchair is hard enough for an elderly person to accept, but to be plucked out of an active, fun-loving life in your prime is devastating. Add to that a tracheotomy to breathe through and total dependence on a nurse and other caregivers, and life can seem pretty confining at times. Steven is matter-of fact about this:
“There’s nothing easy about being paralyzed. I have not been able to hold my wife in my arms for two decades. Conor is now a young man, and I’ve never been able to have a catch with him. It’s frustrating – difficult – ugly – at times.”
So why did he forgive? Again, he himself says it best:
“I forgave Shavod because I believe the only thing worse than receiving a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart. Such an attitude would have extended my injury to my soul, hurting my wife, son, and others even more. It’s bad enough that the physical effects are permanent, but at least I can choose to prevent spiritual injury.”
” When I was a very young kid, Dr. King came to my town in New York. My mother went to hear him speak, and she was very impressed by what she heard. I hope you can be inspired by his words too. Dr. King said that there’s some good in the worst of us, and some evil in the best of us, and that when we learn this, we’ll be more loving and forgiving. He also said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it’s a permanent attitude.” In other words, it is something you have to work for. Just like you have to work to keep your body fit and your mind alert, you’ve got to work on your heart too. Forgiving is not just a one-time decision. You’ve got to live forgiveness, every day.”
This is a lesson that the world needs to take in. Steven McDonald spoke and lived out that lesson. Sure, it was a miracle that he lived through the gunshots and it would have been a great miracle if he could have been freed from his paralysis, but to me the greatest miracle is what Steven did for so many other people working through his disabilities. His faith and desire to spread the message of forgiveness and peace resounds throughout the world.
Detective Stephen King, New York City Police Officer, husband, father, devout Catholic and ambassador of forgiveness and peace died of a heart attack on January 10, 2017 in his Long Island home. His life continues to touch many.