What forgiveness is

“No one’s need to be heard is so great that they should kill.”

– Jo Berry, Beyond Right & Wrong:  Stories of Justice and Forgiveness

But we were all too scared

I. Forgive. You.

Three little words.

One immense impact.

We have all been forgiven and been asked to forgive.  It is as vital to life as the beats of our hearts.  But I wonder: how far is its reach?  Does it slip into the back pews of churches?  Does it sleep in the annals of international cities? Does it accompany a murderer as he walks toward his death?  Does it take refuge in places we dare never go?

I have forgiven many things: the heartrending and the petty, the soul-stealing and the trivial.  But I have never forgiven another human being for killing someone I love.  I have never seen scarlet ribbons descend from their bodies or heard their terror-filled screams. I have never been put in that place and pray I never will.  But the people in the documentary Beyond Right & Wrong:  Stories of Justice and Forgiveness have.  They exhale the loss and pain of those whose loved ones were taken, and inhale the redemptive power of forgiveness.

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Jo and Pat

From left to right:  Jo Berry, Robi Damelin and Patrick Magee

From left to right: Jo Berry; Robi Damelin, spokesperson for The Parents Circle Tel Aviv; and Patrick Magee.  Image via http://www.buildingbridgesforpeace.org

Jo Berry, founder of Building Bridges for Peace, is one such person.  Her father, Sir Anthony Berry, was one of five killed in the October 12, 1984 bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England.  Patrick Magee, the IRA soldier who planted the bomb, served 14 years in prison and was released in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Peace Agreement.  The two met for the first time in November 2000.

Pat has said this about Jo:

Well, one thing that, um, hit me, uh, after…I couldn’t tell you when exactly this happened.  You talked about your father and I got more a picture.  He was a human being, who had shaped you.  In other words, um, all the things that I admire in you came, in some measure, from your father <sil>. That means this was a fine human being <sil>.  And I killed him.

Berry and Magee have since shared a platform upwards of 100 times.  They work together to encourage non-violence and to opt for dialog and reconciliation versus revenge and retaliation.  While their interactions are not easy, Berry is learning “to give up blame and choose empathy.”

Bassam and Rami

Bassam on the left.  Rami on the right.  Image via www.the guardian.com

Bassam on the left. Rami on the right. Image via http://www.theguardian.com

Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian Muslim, and Rami Elhanan, an Israeli Jew and son of a Holocaust survivor, both lost their daughters.  Abir Aramin was standing outside her school when she was shot by an Israeli soldier.  She was 10.  Smadar Elhanan was walking to get books with two friends in Jerusalem when she crossed paths with two suicide bombers.  She was 14.

Image courtesy of Rami Elhanan via www.972mag.com

Image courtesy of Rami Elhanan via http://www.972mag.com

Their fathers are now members of Combatants for Peace, a movement of Palestinians and Israelis who were once dedicated fighters and now seek to end the conflict through dialogue and non-violence.

“We have both lost our daughters,” Rami says.  “We both paid the highest price possible.  Our blood is the same color.  Our pain in exactly the same pain and our tears are just as bitter.”

Bassam adds:

Abir’s murder could have led me down the easy path of hatred and vengeance, but for me there was no return from dialogue and non-violence. After all, it was one Israeli soldier who shot my daughter, but one hundred former Israeli soldiers who built a garden in her name at the school where she was murdered.

Bassam and Rami remain friends and have worked on a project documenting their lives, losses and steps toward peace.  It is called Within the Eye of the Storm: When Enemies Turn to Brothers.

Beata and Emmanuel

Beata Mukangarambe is a Rwandan genocide survivor; her five children are not.

Beata Mukangarambe_five children killed in genocide

“One day, a man came to see me…. He said, ‘Let me tell you something that makes me sad. I am the man who killed your children. Can you forgive me?’”

That man was Emmanuel Bamporiki.  He had just been released from prison after serving seven years for crimes committed in the genocide.  He spoke of his own personal pain.  Of being haunted by those he killed.  Of hearing the voices of children screaming for their mothers as they were chased down by men wielding machetes.

Beata collapsed.

Emmanuel went to beg her forgiveness three more times.  When she finally accepted these were her words to him:

“I have forgiven you.  I will never be angered by you again.  If you have a bicycle, do give me a lift.  If I have something that you do not have, I’ll share.  That is all.”

The lesson

Forgiveness does not erase the past.  It does not equal permission and does not mean you agree with the offender or his offense.  It means that you release him from judgment and release yourself from bitterness, hatred, and revenge.  Forgiveness is recognition that among our human complexities is our ability to do both good and evil, house both good and evil.  But that evil does not make us inhuman.  It makes us imperfect.

When I wake in the morning, I remind myself of who I could be:

I could be Israeli with eyes the color of sea glass and waist-length hair.  I could be a skinhead.  I could be a Tutsi child with legs like dandelion stems and a swollen belly.  I could be a terrorist ready to die for my cause.  I could be your sister, your mother, your enemy.  I could be you.  And you?  You could be me.

And if instead of backing away in fear, I walk forward, extend my hand and place it over your heart, its rhythm would feel the same as mine would to you.

Two hearts.  One heart.

One human heart.

With one message: forgive.

 

Sources:

Building Bridges for Peace.  WordPress. 2014. Web. 28 July 2014. <http://www.buildingbridgesforpeace.org&gt;

Spottiswoode, R. (Director), & Singh, L. (Producer). (2012). Beyond Right & Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness [Documentary]. United States: Article 19 Films.

Within the Eye of the Storm. n.p. n.d.  Web. 2 August 2014.  <http://www.withineyeofstorm.com&gt;