Forgiveness. Something that we all struggle with, something that is so difficult to implement. Yet, it is the best tonic for a lot of our wounds in life. But we have to ask ourselves: what have we suffered? Is Mrs X hurt because she's had a long-standing feud with her sister over so many petty issues, which have now built up into a concrete standoff? Is Mr H hurting because his boss at work treats him with disregard? Is Ms L hurting because her mother reprises her over everything she sets out to do in life? And are you hurting because the guy standing next to you on the Tube stepped on your toes and jumped off without apologising? Mrs X, Mr H, Ms L and "you" all have something in common - the first thing you probably think of is how they/"you" are going to avenge the hurt/pain.
How about giving the 'F' word a shot? Forgiveness. After all, if a rape victim, a 9/11 victim and genocide victim have been able to forgive their perpetrators for what are clearly abhorrent crimes, then why can't we forgive others in our daily life? We are fortunate enough to have not suffered such horrific tragedies in life. Yet we all have our mini-tragedies in life - some of us battle with broken relationships, some of us battle with inferiority complexes, some of us battle with people who said nasty things to us when we were kids.
I recently came across the Forgiveness Project. The Forgiveness Project works at a local, national and international level to help build a future free of conflict and violence by healing the wounds of the past. By collecting and sharing people's stories, and delivering outreach programmes, The Forgiveness Project encourages and empowers people to explore the nature of forgiveness and alternatives to revenge. It is a UK-based charitable organisation which explores forgiveness, reconciliation and conflict resolution through real-life human experience. Many of those whose voices are celebrated in their exhibition and on their website, also share their stories in person. The organisation works in prisons, schools, faith communities, and with any group who want to explore the nature of forgiveness whether in the wider political context or within their own lives. The Forgiveness Project has no religious or political affiliations.
Let me share one of the several stories on their website with you:
Bud Welch’s 23-year-old daughter, Julie Marie, was killed in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. In the months after her death, Bud changed from supporting the death penalty for Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to taking a public stand against it. In 2001 Timothy McVeigh was executed for his part in the bombing.
Three days after the bombing, as Bud watched Tim McVeigh being led out of the courthouse, he hoped someone in a high building with a rifle would shoot him dead. He wanted him to fry. In fact, he'd have killed him himself if he'd had the chance.
Unable to deal with the pain of Julie’s death, he started self-medicating with alcohol until eventually the hangovers were lasting all day. Then, on a cold day in January 1996, he came to the bombsight – as he did every day – and he looked across the wasteland where the Murrah Building once stood. His head was splitting from drinking the night before and he thought, “I have to do something different, because what I’m doing isn’t working.”
For the next few weeks he started to reconcile things in his mind, and finally concluded that it was revenge and hate that had killed Julie and the 167 others. Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols had been against the US government for what happened in Waco, Texas, in 1993 and seeing what they’d done with their vengeance, he knew he had to send his in a different direction. Shortly afterwards he started speaking out against the death penalty.
He also remembered that shortly after the bombing he’d seen a news report on Tim McVeigh’s father, Bill. He was shown stooping over a flowerbed, and when he stood up Bud could see that he’d been physically bent over in pain. Bud recognized it because he was feeling that pain, too.
In December 1998, after Tim McVeigh had been sentenced to death, Bud had a chance to meet Bill McVeigh at his home near Buffalo. He wanted to show him that he did not blame him. His youngest daughter also wanted to meet Bud, and after Bill had showed him his garden, the three of them sat around the kitchen table. Up on the wall were family snapshots, including Tim’s graduation picture. They noticed that Bud kept looking up at it, so Bud felt compelled to say something. “God, what a good looking kid,” he said.
Earlier, when they’d been in the garden, Bill had asked Bud, “Bud, are you able to cry?” He’d told him, “I don’t usually have a problem crying.” His reply was, “I can’t cry, even though I’ve got a lot to cry about.” But now, sitting at the kitchen table looking at Tim’s photo, a big tear rolled down his face. It was the love of a father for a son.
When Bud got ready to leave he shook Bill’s hand, then extended it to Jennifer, but she just grabbed him and threw her arms around him. She was the same sort of age as Julie but felt so much taller. Bud doesn’t know which one of them started crying first. Then he held her face in his hands and said, “Look, honey, the three of us are in this for the rest of our lives. I don’t want your brother to die and I’ll do everything I can to prevent it.” As he walked away from the house Bud realized that until that moment he had walked alone, but now a tremendous weight had lifted from my shoulders. He had found someone who was a bigger victim of the Oklahoma bombing than he was, because while he can speak in front of thousands of people and say wonderful things about Julie, if Bill McVeigh meets a stranger he probably doesn’t even say he had a son.
About a year before the execution Bud found it in his heart to forgive Tim McVeigh. It was a release for Bud rather than for Tim.
This is what Bud says about his forgiveness ordeal:
The Forgiveness Project has several other real-life stories on their website. Visit theforgivenessproject.com/stories and click on any one of the pictures of the forgivers there.
The Forgiveness Exhibition is a series of posters that tell the stories of some of these forgivers. It is on from 8 June to 16 June at Imperial College London, Main Stairwell, Sherfield Building, South Kensington Campus, London.
The impact of the Forgiveness Project on me
It has cracked open my heart. I, like the rest of you, hold grudges, and do struggle to forgive. It is only human to struggle to forgive. But, hearing stories such as Bud's, it makes one realise the empowerment that one can get from implementing the F word.
It reminds me of the day when Jains celebrate forgiveness. The day of Samvatsari, the last day of the 8-day Paryushan festival of the Jains, is the day on which forgiveness is asked for. Jains shed their egos and ask for forgiveness from others around them by saying Micchami Dukkadam. Micchami means to be fruitless (forgiven) and Dukkadam means bad deeds. Therefore, Micchami Dukkadam means "may my bad deeds become fruitless". Samvatsari is a day on which one asks for forgiveness and one receives forgiveness.
Saying Micchami Dukkadam is easy. But the act of asking for forgiveness and forgiving goes beyond just one day in the year. The real battle is the implementation of forgiveness in life.
Using Bud's example above, I hope I can start forgiving and continue to be able to forgive. It will be difficult - but it will be worth it. As Desmond Tutu says: "To forgive is not just to be altruistic, it is the best form of self-interest".