Magaret Mizen, Justin Butcher
Lion Books, UK, 2013
What do you say to the father of a murdered teenage son who was guilty of nothing more sinister than wanting to celebrate his 16th Birthday by buying his first lottery ticket? It is one thing to hear, see and admire someone from a distance through the media. It is an entirely different matter to meet that person face-to-face. Barry and Margaret Mizen touched countless hearts when, hours after the needless death of their 16 year-old son Jimmy, they did what most of us could not do and spoke words of compassion for the parents of the murderer. Time and again, the abiding image was of a broken-hearted family who, instead of being justifiably angry and vengeful, found the strength to forgive their son’s killer and to create an organisation which might preserve other youngsters from becoming victims or perpetrators of violence.
When, at the Flame Congress in the Wembley Arena, I had listened to Barry and his wife Margaret address 10,000 young people, I found tears in my eyes as they spoke and remember thinking, “They are just speaking as an ordinary Mum and Dad talking to their family. If anybody needs proof of God’s existence, all they need to do is to listen to the Mizen family.” Having the privilege of meeting Barry a couple of weeks later, I encountered an ‘ordinary’ father who, through his son’s death, has coped in an extraordinary manner and, with his wife and family, given hope to thousands.
Jimmy: a Legacy of Peace is an unforgettable book. It is deeply moving and many readers might be glad of a handkerchief as they follow the unfolding account of three minutes which forever changed the lives of the Mizen family. The book’s ability to touch the heart is not because it was written in order to generate tears. Far from it!
Jimmy: a Legacy of Peace was not written to sensationalize something that became headline news in the media from the moment of Jimmy’s death on Saturday 10 May 2008. It is a firsthand account from his parents and family members and as a result has the unmistakable stamp of truth, reality, horror and the struggle to come to terms with tragedy. In writing this book, timed to coincide with Jimmy’s fifth anniversary, there was no need to exaggerate and therefore every page proclaims “This is how it was and is”.
Much of the book is in Margaret Mizen’s own words, italicised to distinguish them from the rest of the text, co-authored by playwright Justin Butcher. With courageous honesty, she tells the tale of a family for whom life was not easy but, through their deep love for each other and supported by their deep faith in God, Margaret and Barry managed to face each event as it came. Her language is simple, unadorned and utterly genuine.
Justin Butcher, with his tried and tested skill in the theatre has done better than his best with Jimmy: a Legacy of Peace. He catches scenes with economy of words so that there is a constant immediacy and flow of events which are dramatic without him needing to create additional drama. As a result, he and Margaret have produced something which is not only the ‘legacy of peace’ proclaimed in the title, but is also a legacy of love.
Perhaps surprisingly considering the theme of the book is that of the murder of an innocent teenager, an unmistakable strand, from start to finish, is one of gratitude and appreciation of others. Not only do the Mizens value every gesture made in their direction, incorporating a number of tributes and actions in the text, but others seem to find themselves humbled and enriched by the simplicity and goodness of a grieving family who daily rise above their own pain in an effort to soothe the pain of others.
Jimmy: a Legacy of Peace tells the story of Jimmy’s murder, of the trial, the effect on the family and their collective decision not to be destroyed by the tragedy which came upon them so unexpectedly. Invitations to speak in schools became the inspiration to set up the Jimmy Mizen Foundation, to buy the Jimmybuses for use by community groups and to set up the Café of Hope which both funds the Foundation and offers a safe haven to anxious youngsters. Apprenticeships and many other initiatives soon followed.
It is not surprising that, as Margaret Mizen unfolds her tale, another grieving mother, Kate McCann, adds her own tribute, saying “Learning about Margaret and her family, including of course, Jimmy, has solidified my view that the world is made up of far more good people than bad.” Kate is, of course, speaking from her own experience as almost one year to the day before Jimmy’s death, she and her husband Gerry lost their little daughter Madeleine, for whom they are still searching. Yet, throughout Jimmy: a Legacy of Peace, one senses that the Mizens met an extraordinary number of good people. Is this because their own honesty, faith and genuine care for others have brought out the best in those they met?
A hallmark of Jimmy: a Legacy of Peace is that whilst unfolding the events of a tragedy, it also reveals a wonderful story of hope and sunshine. It is not a book of darkness. It is, rather, a tale of courage and deep faith in God’s supporting presence in the midst of a deeper sorrow than the Mizens could have ever imagined would be theirs. Although there are many moments which cause eyes to sting and a lump in the throat, this is a book which can help others to continue their own struggle against otherwise overwhelming pain. It is a book of forgiveness and compassionate understanding even in the midst of tears.
Perhaps the best summary of the Mizen family is in Margaret’s own words at the end of Jimmy: a Legacy of Peace, where she writes in her own hand, “I want you to take hope and encouragement from all that we do. Please don’t feel sorry for us but take strength and determination to work for change. It starts with each one of us. Let’s work together to bring Peace in memory of our fine young people who have lost their lives to violent crime.”
At the end of this book, I am left marvelling at the way in which God can bring goodness out of evil. Certainly, without the tragic death of Jimmy Mizen and the incredible courage and forgiveness of his family, our lives would have been the poorer. They have enriched us beyond measure. Thank God!