Martha Boynton:

The Road to Forgiveness

A Year In Their Lives

December 28, 2003|By Jonathan Pitts

Last Dec. 15, when Martha Boynton set out with her teen-age daughter, Margie, for a day of biking along the Eastern Shore, she had every reason to feel blessed. An Annapolis resident for the past 25 years, she and her husband, Lee, were devoted churchgoers. She had taught and organized Sunday school, headed prayer groups, done counseling. The preceding year had been good to the pair and their three children.

Lee's career as a landscape painter was gaining traction; Martha was helping with the business. All had their health. A family friend, Kelly Olson, had conquered breast cancer, an event the two families had celebrated the night before. Today, as she pedaled along the bay, the gleam of the brilliant afternoon felt like God's signature on a year well lived.

Eight days later, when Martha Boynton woke up in a hospital room, she could not remember the accident. Two leg casts and a heavy neck brace immobilized her. She'd been hit by a drunken driver, the doctors said. The impact had broken both her legs, crushed her nose and an eye socket, fractured several vertebrae, dislocated her right arm so badly they'd considered amputation. Now, on Christmas Eve, she found herself asking the kinds of questions most people would: Why me? Why now? Why such a drastic shock?

Margie, thank goodness, had been spared -- she didn't even see the accident -- and a few blessings did visit the Boyntons. A passer-by had seen everything and called for help. Martha, then 49, somehow recited for paramedics her name and address. At Shock Trauma in Baltimore, some of the unit's top surgeons were on duty. Within two hours, word had gotten out to churches all around the bay, and the Boyntons are certain the prayers of hundreds, already at Sunday services, had helped save her life.

Her physical recovery was so rapid it amazed her doctors. The head surgeon on call that day had to ask Lee to bring in pictures of his wife's face; he could not tell what she was supposed to look like. A mere month later, she had almost no scars. "It's not possible that you look like this," the surgeon told her.

Thanks to painkillers and, according to the Boyntons, prayers, her discomfort was remarkably slight. Multiple surgeries -- on her arm, on her legs, on a collapsed lung -- went well. Two weeks at Shock Trauma and one in rehab at Kernan Hospital were enough to get her home -- seeing double, feeling pain in her mouth and arm, but on the mend.

If Martha had another shock, it came that summer, from a churchgoing friend. After a service, the older woman -- "spirit-filled, very wise," says Martha -- asked her why, if the congregation was praying for her daily, she still hadn't fully healed. Martha took no offense. "Those were words from God," she says.

On one long, lonely night, she scoured the Bible for the outlines of an answer. The pain in her lip, the result of nerve damage, seemed to her to parallel the wisdom of Isaiah 6: 5-10. Was she, like the prophet, somehow a person of unclean lips? Had asking "Why me?" amounted to expecting that God reward her faith in a way she could understand? It was an epiphany.

"I saw, so personally, that his ways are not our ways," she says. "Life is not about comfort. It's about building of character, which is a long, evolving process. I thought I was living in faith, but trials can deepen faith."

What she learned, perhaps, touched on how she saw herself and others.

As she went about recovery, friends and detectives gathered data on the offending driver, Joseph Mazzatenta, 52, of Chestertown. Years before, he'd been paroled from a 60-year sentence in Delaware for burglary and rape. In the time since, he'd been arrested more than once on drunken-driving charges. Again and again, the words "chilling" and "heartless" came up regarding him.

"I was pretty angry at him," she says. "Here I was enjoying a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, and he's drinking, endangering lives. Why'd he have to be that selfish?"

As a fall sentencing hearing approached, Martha got nervous. "Based on what I'd heard, I had expectations as to what he'd be like," she says. "Here I'd be, in the same room with this hardened criminal. Yes, I was a bit frightened."

Martha continued to mend, continued to pray daily with Lee and church friends. They decided to send Mazzatenta a Living Bible, hoping it would somehow touch his heart.

On Oct. 1, Martha had to speak before a judge, in the presence of the man who'd nearly killed her, about how the accident had affected her life. She came without notes.

She spoke for 10 minutes, of a family whose lives had been ravaged, of the pain of multiple surgeries, of anger and a shattered sense of well-being. But she found herself speaking, too, of ways in which the accident had worked miracles, bringing friends closer, galvanizing her beliefs. She spoke of praying every day for Mazzatenta's salvation. When she was finished, she approached him, looked him in the eye -- and extended her hand.

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