By Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
Dale Lang became a Hot Air Balloon Pilot in 1974 and then ran his own full time Balloon Business in Calgary until 1984. During that time Dale had the privilege of winning the first Canadian National Hot Air Balloon Championship in 1979, and then co-piloting the first balloon over the North Pole in 1980.
Since Dale’s son Jason was killed on April 28th 1999 in a copycat Columbine-style High School shooting, Dale Lang has chosen to ensure that Jason’s life and death makes a lasting difference for other Canadian young people and adults. Jason Lang died when he was shot by a 14-year-old boy at W.R. Myers High School in Taber, Alta.
Dale’s courageous act of forgiving his son’s killer has inspired many across Canada to come and personally hear Dale Lang. Three hundred and sixty-eight business people flocked to a downtown Vancouver business luncheon to hear Dale. Dale spoke passionately on the absolute priority of learning to forgive, and of treasuring our teens one day at a time. Dale who has told his story to nearly 200 high school audiences since that fateful day, said he will keep it up as long as he is making a difference. One Grade 12 student in London, Ontario, after hearing Dale, responded by writing “There is no one in Canada who can bring such an important message about forgiveness”. The Anglican Journal newspaper said that ‘the Rev. Dale Lang may be the best-known Anglican priest in Canada.’
Dale commented: “But as someone who had been a follower of Jesus Christ for 22 years, forgiveness was the only response that I could give. I didn’t think about it, my wife and I didn’t sit down and talk about it, it was a response out of our faith. We did it because it was the way we understood who Jesus is. And we did that and it had a significant impact on people in the country. I can’t explain except to say that people just are not used to forgiveness.”
“At the end of the day, the whole point that I’m making is that we have to be compassionate people who actually care about others, even the people who are tough for us to like,” Mr. Lang said to the Globe and Mail newspaper before addressing the Education Safety Association of Ontario’s annual conference in Toronto. “If everywhere I speak one person’s life is changed for the positive, I’ll keep on going.”
“Ironically, one of the things that’s so sad is that Jason didn’t like bullying, and often tried to befriend kids who were picked on,” Mr. Lang said. “He was a good kid, and we miss him.”
When Dale tries to help his audience understand “the value of other people,” he said high school students listen with “incredible intensity” and he gets a lot of positive feedback. Perhaps the most rewarding instance was a recent talk in London, Ont.
“The principal told me that the biggest bully in the school approached him and said he wanted to get the bullied kids together to talk about how they feel,” Rev. Lang said to the Ottawa Citizen Newspaper.
Because his son was an innocent victim of an angry bullied boy, Rev. Lang has a deep personal interest in minimizing bullying everywhere. “Since Jason’s death, I’ve had people come to me — some of them senior citizens — and tell me about being bullied in grade school. They’ll tell me they can still see the faces of the bullies,” he said. “It made me realize how profoundly bullying can affect people.”
Jason Lang was in many ways a typical teen, according to his dad. He enjoyed sports and had bought his first car – a 1983 Camaro – three days before he died. The very morning of Jason’s death, his father Dale had helped him learn how to drive the five-speed Camaro. “On the last day of Jason’s life, he and I were the best of friends,” said Mr. Lang. “I hope you understand how thankful I am that April 28, 1999, was not a day we argued.
People have asked him how he has responded so gracefully to the tragedy. “If it wasn’t for the grace of God in my life, I think I would be a very angry man,” he said to the Ottawa Citizen. “When I share my story, I talk about the initial anger — and the pain. But you don’t have to live with the anger. We prayed and we forgave the boy. That was very healing for our family.”
Two years before Jason’s death, I was privileged to lead a Renewal Mission retreat for Dale Lang and the wonderful parish of St. Theodore’s in Taber, Alberta. Dale Lang came to BC to speak on forgiveness at the BC Christian Ashram retreat.
In the days following the first fatal high school shooting in Canada in 20 years, shock and disbelief gripped all of us as Canadians. Tragedy can so easily crush us, embitter us, and turn us desperately inward. Dale Lang chose to respond to the death of his 17-year-old son Jason, by turning outward and living for others. Everything about Dale inspires hope in others. Dale proves that life is stronger than death, love is stronger than hate, forgiveness is stronger than revenge. My prayer for those reading this article is that Dale Lang’s example of forgiveness in the face of tragedy may inspire great healing in the lives of our families and friends.
Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-an article previously published in the Deep Cove Crier.
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