Twenty Years Later, Forgiveness

| 2/8/2008 2:40:53 PM

“Resentment is like a glass of poison that you drink; then you sit down and wait for your enemy to die.” It’s a well-known saying, its truth self-evident. But forgiveness is difficult, and understanding its importance doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.

Twenty years after her mother’s murder, Stephanie Cassatly wasn’t particularly interested in forgiving the man responsible, as she recounts in the Fall 2007 issue of the nonfiction journal Fourth Genre (essay not available online). She writes that “I had no interest in having a positive impact on a cold-blooded murderer. In fact, I strongly supported the death penalty, silently bitter that my mother’s killer had only received a life sentence.”

Cassatly harbored that resentment until a chance encounter provoked her to start thinking about the man who killed her mother. She spent a year obsessively learning more about him, until she finally called the chaplain’s office at his penitentiary. The chaplain asks is she wants him to serve as a mediator. Here’s what follows:

“Yes, I think I would,” I said, surprisingly sure of myself. I stood up and began pacing.

“And how shall we do this?” he asked more pointedly. “Would you like me to deliver a letter for you?” I felt my stomach tighten at the though of something so tangible between us, as if her killer could touch me through a piece of paper. Father Damereaux interpreted my silence. “Or perhaps you can simple tell me what to say, and I’ll personally deliver the message to him.” My stomach relaxed slightly.

“Yes. Maybe that would be better,” I agreed.

2/14/2008 11:07:11 AM

Thank you for this post. Finding the courage, and the grace, to forgive is very difficult. Yet, forgiveness is key to the healing process. I recently viewed a television program that documented confrontations between family members of murder victims and their perpetrators. The prisoners sat together in a group and listened as the respective families of victims spoke about the impact the crime had on their lives. The angry and accusatory families received either stony silences or grudging apologies from the prisoners. In contrast, the family members who spoke in gentler voices, some showing photographs of the victims, and who shared their grief, had a profound impact. When these families spoke words of forgiveness, nearly all of the prisoners broke down and wept. Many were moved to tears after listening to stories from families harmed by other, fellow prisoners. In later interviews, prisoners expressed a deeper understanding of the ramifications of their crimes. Many confessed that they had not pitied the families prior to the interaction. Yet, many said that they felt a keener sense of guilt and remorse after meeting the families because they were no longer able to ignore the reality that they had taken the life of another human being. All of the prisoner were astonished by families who had chosen to forgive them. It was gift that many did not feel they deserved. The act of forgiveness allowed one side to find closure and offered the other side a chance for redemption.

2/12/2008 12:41:36 PM

Sometimes the seeds of anger have fed so much that we no longer know what we are mad at. So comes the old saying, "Are we mad at what we are mad at"

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