21 Days of Forgiveness

On September 15, 2014 Green Light Arts' launched 21 Days of Forgiveness.

Running in conjunction with our production of The Amish Project (Sept 24-Oct 5, 2014) we invited people to submit 250-word stories about their experience(s) of being – or not being – forgiven, and of forgiving or denying forgiveness.

Read Matt White's Blog: On Forgiveness


Sept 15: DAY ONE....

"As a young boy, I spent many nights watching helplessly as my father verbally and physically abused my mother. I can still recall the smell of alcohol, see the fear in my mother's eyes, and feel the hopeless despair that comes when we see people we love hurting each other in incomprehensible ways. I would not wish that experience on anyone, especially not a child.

If I dwell in those memories, I can feel myself wanting to hurt my father back, in the same ways he hurt my mother. My mother was a gentle human being who did nothing to deserve the pain inflicted upon her. It is perfectly normal to want to hurt back when we have been hurt. But hurting back rarely satisfies. We think it will, but it doesn't. If I slap you after you slap me, it does not lessen the sting I feel on my own face, nor does it diminish my sadness as to the fact you have struck me. Retaliation gives, at best, only momentary respite from our pain. The only way to experience permanent healing and peace is to forgive.

If I choose not to forgive, I will always pay a price for it. When we are uncaring, when we lack compassion, when we are unforgiving, we don't just suffer alone for that choice. Our family suffers, our community suffers, and ultimately our entire world suffers. We are made to exist in a delicate network of interdependence. We are sisters and brothers, whether we like it or not. To treat anyone as if they were less than human, less than a brother or a sister, no matter what they have done, is to contravene the very laws of our humanity. And those who shred the web of interconnectedness cannot escape the consequences of their actions."

-- Desmond Tutu

[taken from the Huffington Post article An Invitation to Forgive]


Sept 16: DAY TWO...

As an ESL kid, ethnic minority in an extremely white-centric Catholic school growing up, I was bullied a lot, and often made an outcast. I was extremely afraid of losing friends, and therefore easily forgave anyone for anything. Without trying to say I was blameless, I do believe a lot of people I forgave were mostly for things done to me, rather than mutual fighting.

I decided to change this completely in later years. I still tried to fight to maintain relationships, but started setting "deal breaker" points. Those who pass, I will never forgive. One specific case was a former friend, who decided to tell me I should have died based on a suicide attempt. This was nearly 10 years ago. I still haven't forgiven her. People kept telling me that forgiveness means letting go. I saw it as letting someone get away with something.

What has disappeared is the rage. In recent years, I've realized that raging at others means continuing to wallow in pain myself. I was hindering myself from moving on. I also felt that clinging onto the grudge was almost like I was feeding immaturity in some sense. Someone asked me years after the incident what would I do if I saw her again, and joked about how terrified she should be. I answered that I would speak to them professionally. For me, I'm not sure if I would call it forgiveness. But I will call it maturity, and understanding that there is a bigger picture.

-- Anonymous submission


Sept 17: DAY THREE...

Forgiveness: to renounce anger or resentment

We think of forgiveness as an exchange, like gift-giving
-  something to be asked for or offered, accepted or rejected.
But what if the other is unaware of having hurt you?  

A dear theatre colleague, with whom I worked intensely for many months, 
shaping and directing his one-man show, allowed the American producers
(when the piece was taken south), to insist that I be replaced by a “name” director.
I was so devastated by my friend’s betrayal of my interests, but more, of me,
that I actually broke down, lived in silence among my family for weeks.

Years passed without my seeing him, and I found myself telling my grievances
to my second wife. But we were at the time involved in Scripture study with a fine teacher,
and the pesky “as” in the Lord’s prayer had caught our attention: “Forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.” 

I had to admit that my erstwhile friend and colleague did not likely intend me any harm,
or even probably realize it I knew I missed him.  

When I renewed our acquaintance, it was almost as if there had never been any problem.
We were welcomed by my friend almost as family, and enjoyed the warmest , most rewarding
relationship until his recent death.

I never mentioned my struggles to him; he didn’t need to know. I was the one dealing with
festering resentment, the one needing healing. I was the one forgiveness freed.

-- D. Hayes 


Sept 18: DAY FOUR...

It is difficult to let go of violence in the past.

As a teenager my older brother was violently abusive. I reacted by experiencing anxiety and depression early on, which somewhat account for the acuteness of my struggles today – avoidance, fear, and inappropriate stress reactions and outbursts to name several of the lesser examples of psychological trauma.

I have never forgiven him for his abuse, and although I realize through cause and effect that he was irrational and out of control with anger, experiencing his own problems to this day, I am unable to set aside enough of the challenges to my life since.

While I have owned my personal journey and development, and feel deeply and joyously connected with others, I have never been able to reconcile with him. I tolerate him remotely and wish him well being, however to this day he is still a bully. I am not moving mountains in order to reconcile either. He simply lacks the ability to confront his demons in any normal way and instead practices self abuse. I have to move on.

-- Anonymous submission


Sept 19: DAY FIVE...

Her.

She was abusive and crazy, my biological mother.
Every physical or psychological terror she inflicted, she did so without hesitation or remorse. She was/is mentally ill.
She always professed to love me. That of me and my two other siblings, I was the “good” one. She also told me she should have flushed me down the toilet. 
I left home when I was 17 and had been estranged from her for 15 years when I heard last Christmas she had a brain tumor. 
I knew I’d have to decide whether that warranted me re-opening that door. 
I didn't want to. 
My step-mother urged me to meet with her – in case she died, so I wouldn't regret it. 
We met for lunch, chaperoned by my cousin and my older sister. 
It was numbing and I wanted a shower afterwards. The tumor was apparently pressing on her brain, making her spacey and tangential. She was straining to curb her vitriol, punctuated with nervous, manic laughter. She was trying to act loving and like no time had passed. I recall her smiling at me through now cataract-glazed eyes, in no way in touch with reality. I looked at my hands for the most part while my sister did the talking. 
She survived her brain tumor. But I won’t see her again before she dies. 
Sure I forgive her. The thought of her makes me sick, but I forgive her. She’s mentally unstable. She could have been no other way. What remains more important is that I forgive myself for how I survived the trauma of my childhood.

-- Anonymous submission


Sept 20: DAY SIX...

Katy Hutchison, who resides in Victoria BC, became a Restorative Justice advocate following the murder of her first husband. After ten years of sharing her story internationally to over five hundred schools and community groups, she views the education system as the structure with the most potential to affect positive social change.

Visit her website here


Sept 21: DAY SEVEN...

Man Who Will Forgive.

Man who will forgive, a true man.
And,
as with all natural forces,
he
receives my pure Love, for giveness.
An
unequaled, transcendent, endless
Love.
His sore, gentle heart commands it.

-- Submitted by Ruby Wednesday


Sept 22: DAY EIGHT...

Why I forgive......

I forgive what happened because not to, keeps me stuck in it and him, free. Forgiveness allows me to go on with life and on to the next chapter. Not forgiving keeps one mired.

-- Submitted anonymously


Sept 23: DAY NINE...

He had a dangerous job; he was a teacher. Popular with the students, he was well aware of the delicacy of his position, and careful to keep his distance. Nonetheless, one day a youth accused him of abuse, and despite the fact that  no person could actually have achieved the actions described, the police chose to believe the allegation, and he was put in jail and then on a long period of house arrest. Nearly 3 years after the charge was made, there was a brief court case and the charges were withdrawn. Initially elated by his vindication, he soon realized that it changed nothing. His friends had melted away, his employer did not support him, he knew he could never teach again. Discouraged past despair, he took his own life a few months later.

The current climate concerning child abuse seems to condone our tendency to ignore the legal presumption of innocence. No officials have apologized for his mistreatment or made any move to restore his good name. The original charges remain on the internet today.

 

Toronto, Sept., 2014
Unforgiveness

 

for decades, for aeons

we dismissed abuse of kids

as something overrated

a minor peccadillo

unfortunate

tolerated 

 

‘spare the rod and spoil the child’

held a certain wisdom

now we have insight

misuse of the body

damages the mind

destroys a life

 

as usual we’ve swung too far

constructing a new myth

‘children only utter truths’

congratulate ourselves

throwing the accused

to the wolves 

 

should the story

prove to be untrue

we do nothing to restore

the innocent’s good name

deserting them to languish

in despair 

 

we do not ask forgiveness

for our misjudgment

that would be airing

a failed system

our complicity

in suffering

 

nor do we forgive them

their misfortune

but  resent them withal

for reminding us

how vulnerable we also are

to an untrue tale  

-- Anonymous submission


Sept 24: DAY TEN...

Forgiveness: its power to heal

When I was 5, my dad, driving home one day, inadvertently and most regrettably, struck and killed another 5-year-old girl from our rural community. As a thick blanket of despair descended on our home, I came to believe that I was the one who should have died, since it was my dad whose actions, while unintentional, had ended this life. A sense of being unworthy to live hung, dark and muttering, in my psyche well into adulthood. I was somehow guilty of the removal of joy from the lives of many who had loved the dead girl. Understandably, there was no apparent forgiveness emanating from her family. My dad, with whom I was very close, died at a relatively young age, his life shortened by this grief.

As I approached mid-life, I generated the courage to lift this ancient burden to the light. As if guided by unseen hands, an unrelated event brought me into the presence of the dead girl's mother, whom I had never before seen. As soon as I realized who she was, I knew I needed to speak with her.

Before I spoke, she had guessed my topic. I reflected that our families had a history together, that I was deeply sorry for the pain that had come to her family, and that my dad had struggled with this for the rest of his life. Her words, “Oh, that was forgiven long ago,” were what, all those years, I had needed to hear.

-- Submitted by M H


Sept 25: DAY ELEVEN...

Meet Kim Phuc of the KIM Foundation.


Sept 26: DAY TWELVE...

Wilma Derksen.

In November 1984 Wilma and Cliff Derksen’s 13-year-old daughter, Candace, went missing on her way home from school in Winnipeg, Canada. Nearly two months later she was found murdered. 22 years later, a man was charged with her death.

Wilma and Cliff chose forgiveness. Hear her story.


Sept 27: DAY THIRTEEN...

Forgive for you.

Jack Kornfield, an internationally acclaimed Buddhist teacher and activist, recounts an inspiring tale of forgiveness and reconciliation. He offers that forgiveness is not just for the other, but for our own dignity and capacity to fulfill our own lives.


Sept 28: DAY FOURTEEN...

A note from Matt:

While conducting research for The Amish Project, Dr. Abuelaish's book, I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey was suggested to me by Lowell Ewert, the Director of Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College. Dr. Abuelaish's story is incredibly inspiring, touching and devastating. I found it both difficult to put down while simultaneously hard to continue reading. 

To see history continuing to repeat itself with the current situation in Gaza is heartbreaking. Knowing he is still pushing forward with his mission gives me hope that we can continue to find ways to solve conflict through compassionate, peaceful means.

What resonated so deeply with me about Dr. Abuelaish's story and reaction, is the same thing that drew me to the The Amish Project. As a father of young girls it not only makes me question if I'd be strong enough to survive and forgive similar circumstances but challenges again and again the depth of my understanding of what it can mean to live a compassionate life. 


Sept 29: DAY FIFTEEN...

Mary Johnson.

"And I instantly knew that all that anger, and the animosity, all the stuff that I had in my heart for 12 years for you, was over." Mary Johnson found forgiveness for Oshea Israel, the young man who murdered her son as a teenager. The two now live next door to one another.


Sept 30: DAY SIXTEEN...

Samereh Alinejad, the mother who spared her son's killer.

Abdollah Hosseinzadeh was stabbed and killed in a street brawl in the autumn of 2007 when he was only 18. He had known his killer, Balal. The two, barely out of their teens at the time, had played football together. Abdollah was the second son Alinejad had lost, her youngest died as a boy in a motorbike accident when he was 11. Furious in her grief, she was determined Balal would hang...

Alinejad with Balal's mother Kobra

Alinejad with Balal's mother Kobra

...After recitation from the Qur'an was read, prison guards had hooked a rope around Balal's neck as he stood on a chair blindfolded, his hands tied behind his back. Iran's Islamic penal code allows the victim's heir – "walli-ye-dam" – to personally execute the condemned man as Qisas (retribution) – in this case by pushing away the chair he was standing on.

Seconds away from what could have been his final breath, Balal pleaded for his life and called out for mercy. "Please forgive," he shouted, "if only for my mum and dad," Alinejad recalled. "I was angry, I shouted back how can I forgive, did you show mercy to my son's mum and dad?"

Others in the crowd watching the scene in anguish also called out for the family to spare Balal's life. "Amoo Ghani (uncle Ghani), forgive," they shouted, calling the victim's father by his first name.

Balal's fate then took an unexpected turn. Alinejad clambered up on a stool and rather than pushing away his chair, slapped him across the face.

"After that, I felt as if rage vanished within my heart. I felt as if the blood in my veins began to flow again," she said. "I burst into tears and I called my husband and asked him to come up and remove the noose." Within seconds, as Abdolghani unhooked the rope from Balal's neck, he was declared pardoned...

...One week after pardoning Balal, Alinejad has found a peace lost since her son's death. "Losing a child is like losing a part of your body. All these years, I felt like a moving dead body," she said. "But now, I feel very calm, I feel I'm at peace. I feel that vengeance has left my heart."

[taken from The Guardian article Iranian mother who spared her son's killer: 'Vengeance has left my heart']


Oct 1: DAY SEVENTEEN...

Adversity.

My pregnant mother had just moved with the family from the US with two children about to begin a new school. My father had a new job, and the neighbourhood was just being built. Two months later, when my mother went into the hospital, she came out with a newborn and polio. Two weeks later she could not walk or move and spent the next two years in the hospitals and rehab centres. She was in an iron lung and also suffered encephalitis and the family was called to bid her goodbye. She survived, learned to use her wheelchair, returned home to a toddler who had bonded to a nanny. She dismissed the nanny so that she could learn to manage on her own. She was angry and perpetually frustrated with the loss of her abilities and as that toddler, I was home alone with her rage. Grieving for my nanny, and afraid of the big metal monster with wheels, I became the victim of profound abuse. During her last and very painful months when she was 77, she called to say she could not forgive herself unless I could forgive her. I had long since done so, knowing that had I been in her shoes I could not say if I could have handled my life any differently during those times, but I had no idea she needed to hear this from me or that this too had been part of her pain to bear. Her asking was a gift to us both even after so many decades. She died peacefully and I still weep at times for what might have been different had it not been for the polio epidemic of the 50s.

-- Submitted by Patricia Cawley Reid


Oct 2: DAY EIGHTEEN...

Greed, God and Forgiveness.

It was a least 3 years after our mother died of ALS that I chose forgiveness for my brother and his wife for the hell that was created by their greed for money, abusing our mother's finances as she was dying of ALS. I despised that he used God as a way to justify his actions, saying God is all forgiving, that he would be forgiven by God. It became his excuse to continue the financial abuse. My mother wrote a cheque for groceries 3 days before she died while they lived in a 1/2 million dollar home. To create space for my own emotional and physical healing, I had very little contact with my brother and his family. I forgave so I could be free of anger and resentment. I forgave so I could embrace their three children back into my life. They were the innocent ones whom I felt, needed to know they were loved, and that it wasn't about them. And now, 11 years since our mother died, the questions begin, coming from one of my brother's daughters. She was 8 at the time. She asked me, "What happened when Omee died?" She said, " I remember feeling like I was bad, that we weren't liked in the family." She feels guilty. And so now I revisit this trusting that truth, compassion and love will heal more wounds as they surface.

-- Submitted anonymously


Oct 3: DAY NINETEEN...

Padre.

Well you know
We haven’t spoken for a while
Eye’ve
Tried t’ stay away from here
For all Rome’s reasons
Why
Of truth, I’ve not been present very much
Despite the gifts you’ve sent me, signed, then sealed
With your touch
’Times I wish myself accursed from all these feelings
And the burdens which you place upon my heart
i
Don’t want t’ sit and write each time I hear them
These voices
Sometimes screaming
In the dark
And I know ’tis not polite of me to say
But you said the truth would set me free some day
Well
I’ve been waiting on this story to unfold
But you just turn the page, and make me scribble notes
These are not the words my lips would form in song
Not the ones I’d write had I my, ‘Will Be Done’
But you saturate my inkwell overflowing
With the resonating echoes
Of the fallen

Wings a broken

On bended knee, I prithee
Please
Neglect me!
Oh take this pen, erase these words you send me
Give this voice to someone else
Who really cares
A’ not a man whose cup is old, and cracked
An’ leaking everywhere!
See I pray, and I just know that you don’t need me
For eye can feel you laugh aloud, each time you hear me
B’ then you turn, I see ’our tears
Becoming

One

As we weep for all our children here

Then cry

Just for your Son
 

-- Submitted by Roberto Angelis


Oct 4: DAY TWENTY...

When I was in University they taught us that we could be morally autonomous.  I can do whatever I want as long as it doesn’t affect you.  The problem with this thought is most of our actions affect other people and there are many decisions that are made because people have read a theory but they don’t know the people they’re affecting.  One day a decision was made by one group of people and I knew it would be a tricky thing to implement but I supported it and then a decision was made by another group of people to reverse that decision without consulting the first group of people.  I was so hurt by this I physically felt the pain and withdrew.  And then one day I met the ultimately decision maker and realized I was no longer upset and consciously thought “I’m ticked because I’m no longer ticked!”.  God had healed my hurt. 

As I listened to Wilma the other night though I was reminded that forgiveness doesn’t come without Lordship which implies obedience and reconciliation.  We can’t assume that we can go about taking advantage of others and we need to work for a healthy community where each one of us thrives and is energized to be all that God wants us to be.

-- Submitted anonymously


Oct 5: DAY TWENTY-ONE...