With the passing of South African President Nelson Mandela last week I began to think about the word forgiveness and what it means to me. I was surprised not to find Mr. Mandela in Wikipedia’s definition of forgiveness – to forgive the people who incarcerated him, who were responsible for keeping him away from his family and any sort of normal existence for almost thirty years – now that is the quintessential example of forgiveness.
“Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense – (and) lets go of negative emotions such as revenge, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.”
Earlier this week I saw the recently released film Philomena based on a true story. Judi Dench portrayed an Irish woman searching for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in an Irish convent. The nuns practically enslaved these poor girls and sold their babies to wealthy Americans. Over the next fifty years they covered up any proof these babies or their mothers ever existed. In the end Philomena forgave the nun who was instrumental in the cover-up.
President Mandela and Philomena made me wonder, “Could I forgive such atrocities? Could I be so strong as to let go of the anger, not want revenge, and gain an increased ability to wish the offender well?”
And then two nights ago my nephew was shot three times by a masked man in his driveway after coming home from taking his last test of the semester as a graduate student at Ohio State University. Just writing those words is difficult – almost as much as it has been saying them aloud. These are not words my family has ever had to say, “One of us has been shot.”
The man is still at large. The reason for the shooting still unknown. My nephew has just gone through his third surgery to repair the damage to his chest and leg. They removed part of his spleen and pancreas. He is still on a ventilator and heavily sedated. My sister and brother-in-law have been going through hell while praying their son will once again be a healthy, happy 24-year-old.
Can I forgive the man who did this? I’m trying to use all my energy to send positive thoughts, prayers, and love to my sister and her family. I am working on staying upbeat and hoping for a speedy recovery. There doesn’t seem time for the anger right now with a multitude of texts, phone calls about the latest surgery, the tubes, the medical procedures that are being done to save his life; instead I am focusing on all the amazing stories my sister has told me about the generosity of strangers, the talented doctors and nurses in the trauma center, the loving and caring messages pouring in from co-workers and friends and the encouraging Facebook posts. It’s all filling my heart with compassion and love. There is no room for anger right now, but I’m guessing that it will come.
And then I will have to make the decision to forgive or not to forgive. I hope I will choose the weapon Mr. Mandela says will liberate my soul. I agree it would be so much better than the one used on my nephew.