"There but for the grace of God go I."
People sometimes say that, almost by reflex, when they see or hear of someone overwhelmed by misfortune or someone caught committing some wrongdoing. But for God's mercy, or fate, or blind luck, it might have been them.
Maybe the phrase came to mind when you read about the death of Karen LaPierre and the arrest of Lisa Leavitt for motor vehicle homicide the week before Christmas last year.
Leavitt, 37, was drunk when she slammed into LaPierre as the 63-year-old church worker was loading donuts into her car for the after-Mass gathering she helped run at Sacred Hearts Church in Bradford.
In an instant, a woman's life was lost and the lives of many others were shattered.
There but for the grace of God ...
But grace was very much in evidence last week in the courtroom at Haverhill District Court where Lisa Leavitt was sentenced for her crime.
Leavitt sobbed as she pleaded guilty and accepted the maximum sentence for motor vehicle homicide, two and a half years in jail.
Leavitt's lawyer, Gerard LaFlamme, said Leavitt had told him not to try to mount a defense because she wanted to take responsibility for her actions. "She did not want to put the LaPierre family through anything more."
He said Leavitt, who wasn't a churchgoer, had begun attending services while held at Framingham state prison for women. "When she gets out, she will be a better person," LaFlamme said.
LaPierre's widower, Bill, is the kind of person Leavitt might hope to become.
His wife died in his arms as she was pinned between her car and Leavitt's, and when Bill LaPierre rose to read a statement to the court, he did not sugarcoat how devastating the death of his wife had been and continues to be.
He said the killing of his "soul mate" was "an inexcusable act of disregard for a beautiful human life, by a drunk driver."
"Her life was cut short at a time when we were supposed to reap the benefits of a hard-working and caring life," he said. "My pain is unbearable and I see that pain in our whole family. ...
"I will never forget how I felt when I had to call Karen's brother and her sisters and our five children and tell them Karen was dead. I had so much pain and so did they.
"My life will never be the same, my loneliness is a daily sentence for me."
Yet through the pain, Bill LaPierre was able to gather the strength to do the one thing no one else could: forgive Lisa Leavitt.
"I forgive you for what you have done to my family and me and hope you get the help you need to become a better person," he said.
The court fell silent as LaPierre spoke, a silence punctuated only by Leavitt's quiet sobs.
When he ended, many were teary-eyed and in awe. So were many of those who read about the court proceedings.
Said one commenter on our website: "I am always amazed at the grace of people who, through terrible tragedy, are able to forgive those who affected their lives so terribly. Bill LaPierre is a better person than I could ever be and I am moved by his graciousness."
May God bless Bill LaPierre and his family.