The Other I

April 22, 2014

“Forgive us as…”

For Roman Catholics, gaining forgiveness for one’s sins is fairly easy.  One pops into a dark confessional, tells the priest who is sitting behind a screen and is bound by life-long secrecy, what one has done, and forgiveness is granted, usually for a small penance, such as saying several short prayers.

In theory, this recognition in confession that we are all sinners should be the motivation for forgiving others.  In one of the great prayers of Christianity, the Our Father,  the petitioner asks God “to forgive us our sins as we forgive others.”  But learning to forgive others, especially for real injustice and injury, is rarely so simple as getting forgiveness for oneself.

Last week,  something that happened at a scheduled hanging in Iran is one of the most incredible stories of forgiveness I have ever heard.

Maryam Hosseinzadeh, standing on a chair, slaps Balal.Seven years ago a 17-year-old boy was killed with a kitchen knife in a street fight in Iran.  Four days ago, the young man who had killed him was scheduled to be hanged.  There was a crowd gathered to witness the public execution, including the mother of the young man about to be hanged, and the parents of the murder victim.   The prisoner was brought out blind-folded, and the noose placed around his neck.  The mother of the victim then asked for a stool on which she could stand to reach the prisoner.  She reached over, slapped him hard, and said “Forgiven!”  She and the victim’s father then took the noose from around the neck of the prisoner and he was released.

There are photographs of the mothers of the released prisoner and of the victim embracing.

This story seems to have been in all the international news media.  But I’ve not written about it because it has left me speechless.  As far back as the Greeks, we have myths teaching us that the poison of unforgiven acts can last for centuries, even for millennium.   Today in trouble spots around the world we see this tearing nations apart.  I thought I had long understood that the only way to grow beyond injustice and betrayal was to forgive, to let go of the bitterness and anger.   And I have seen people learn to let go of the desire for revenge and recompense, to forgive.

But I have never known anyone who has achieved  it moments before one might arguably say she was about to achieve what some might have called ” justice”  for the murder of her son.

I will not pretend that I’m sure I could do it.

But I do know that if humanity is going to survive, we must learn the lesson from this mother.

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  1. stuck a chord with me – forgive us our debts and we forgive others – so many things i have trouble letting go – the two men ostensibly behind last year’ boston marathon bombing folks taping razor blades on playground equipment (a new happening in new york) never mind the constant drain of daily oh so minor diminishments some say there is a difference between forgiving and forgetting but why remember – does it prevent evil? if living in the present is the paragon, what, then, of the past and future? i remember little of the scriptures but one that has remained with me – and i know i am badly remembering it here, behold the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor spin, yet i say until you that not even solomon in all his glory is not arrayed like one of these. but emotion – responding – responsibility for self and others – isn’t that the human condition?

    btw i do think that catholics add something to sacrament of penance – not only does one have to recite ones transgressions but there has to be (1) remorse and (2) resolve to do better – i think – but then, i am no expert in this either.

    Comment by kateritek — April 22, 2014 @ 10:01 pm | Reply

    • I don’t think forgetting is a mark of true forgiving. Of course, forgetting about fairly inconsequential things – the man who ran his cart into my back in the supermarket last week and didn’t even say “excuse me” is not worth brooding about. But some things are unforgettable. And some things should not be forgotten. How can one forget the murder of one’s child? Wouldn’t it be a terrible thing if we forgot about the Holocaust?

      For me, the truly great acts of forgiveness are not marked by forgetting. Rather,what is outstanding is that forgiveness is not marked by bitterness or anger. The injured person refuses to be a victim, and sometimes even learns to turn what they have learned through the experience of abuse or injustice to help others. If my primary and enduring response is anger, then ultimately the abuser has won.

      As for the Roman Catholic sacrament of penance, I can’t really say I speak with truly authentic knowledge. My experience of confession was spending ten minutes or so trying to identify some trivia to confess, which was then assigned a Hail Mary or two before absolution was granted. Oh, and the priest more than once took the opportunity in the confessional to ask if I’d considered a religious vocation. It was never an experience of dealing with what I would consider true guilt.

      What do you think?

      Comment by theotheri — April 23, 2014 @ 1:35 pm | Reply

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