The following is an excerpt from an email to an old (mostly) virtual colleague with whom I’ve recently reconnected. The topic of forgiveness came up:
Forgiveness is, as you note, key to healthy relationships, if not all of the human condition. Most people are aware of Bishop Tutu’s outspoken battle against Apartheid, but not many are aware of his work among black South Africans encouraging them to forgive whites for decades of cruelty and deprivation. You can imagine that it was not a popular position among many of his peers – like asking a holocaust survivor to forgive the Nazis.
I was fortunate enough to be a member of a large church in Pasadena where Bishop Tutu came for a couple months each summer to teach (and escape the South African government’s persecution). He and I both taught Sunday school… the great man choosing to take a humble role just like any other parishioner. I found it hard to even conceive of his concept of blacks forgiving the then still-ongoing persecution. He really opened my eyes, and heart, to the capacity of one human to forgive another.
I always felt a special presence when he was in the room – hard to describe, but others have described feeling the same way about Ghandi, Mother Teresa and other “saints.”
Nelson Mandela (I think) said that without forgiveness, South Africa would not be possible. While it’s far from perfect, I guess the whole world recently had a glimpse of a nation that has begun to heal. Such is the power of forgiveness, and it’s something that each of us can do. Untangle the Middle East? Northern Ireland?. It can be…