Friday, February 27, 2009

Forgiveness, Part II

A happy, healthy 22-year-old college student with a loving family, Immaculee Ilibagiza’s life was transformed during 1994 Rwandan genocide when, as EM Forster so aptly put it, “the spirit of evil strode abroad and carried men forward over a new precipice.” She weighed 115 pounds when she went into hiding in a tiny bathroom from those who wanted her dead, those infected with collective madness. And she was one of eight Tutsi women who survived, all starving, in this tiny room. When she left the room 91 days later, she weighed 65 pounds, her family had been brutally murdered, and her country had been destroyed.

Later coming face to face with the killer of her mother and brother, she said to him, “I forgive you.” So often our human response is to punish in return, to rail against the storm without to attempt to quell the storm within. Rather than being crushed by the enemy and remade in his hateful image, she released him, and it released her. Immaculee realized retaliating would only add fuel to a fire that would destroy them both.

After reading things terrible to think about but impossible to forget, I’ve come to the conclusion that forgiveness requires great courage. It’s been said that courage is fear that has said its prayers, but it’s not something you can just grab for in a time of need and expect it to be handy; it has to be something you build a life around. Courage, faith, and love gave this remarkable woman an inner security against which all outside battering was powerless. Her forgiveness was an act of self-healing not tied to this man’s response, but essential for her to move forward with hope, courage and peace.

She immigrated to the United States in 1998, told her story in a book, Left to Tell, in 2006, and now works with the United Nations heading a charity to help children of that tragic genocide. She sets such a wonderful example for us in how to live extraordinarily during horrendous times and how to be truly forgiving. But most impressive to me, she reminded me of our obligation, once over our own hurdles, to help others. What a lesson! Immaculee, I’m in your debt.

“If every man would mend a man, then all the world would be mended.” –Anonymous


TheWritersPorch said...

Wonderful post Peggy!

Derrick said...

Hello Peggy,

This post makes it much easier for me to understand the notion of forgiveness that you were suggesting yesterday. You cannot but admire Immaculee and others like her who triumph over such an horrific experience.

They had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa in the hope of enabling forgiveness between blacks and whites. There have been similar moves in Northern Ireland but it is an enormous task.

I am willing to admit that I might be unable to face the test.

Meri Arnett-Kremian said...

Inspirational. The essence of peace lies in her courage and strength.

Poetikat said...

Of all the films I have seen, I think "Hotel Rwanda" moved me the most. I was stunned by the cruelty and dehumanization.
A friend on another blog, "These Are Words..." ( had the opportunity to meet Immaculee in Colorado a while ago. If you search her blog I'm sure you can read about how much of an impact it made on her.


willow said...

I'll have to honestly agree with Derrick. It would be a hard thing to do, if I were put to the test, like Immaculee. Thanks for sharing this story of courage, as well as forgiveness.

Delwyn said...

I think the most important thing you said is that this courage we all need is not something handy that we can grab in a moment of need ,

but something that we have to build a life around.

Someone, some family and some community taught her a sustaining courage.

Reya Mellicker said...

I've really enjoyed these thoughts on forgiveness, an emotional state that I believe is one of the most healing powers on earth (along with gratitude and compassion).

I've had a hard time with forgiveness in my own life. I can release old thoughts, and pray for the forgiveness to come into my heart but at least for me, there's some kind of divine component that's necessary before I can really and truly forgive.

I'll keep trying though! Thanks for this.

dancing doc design said...

Powerful stuff and compelling story!Thanks for sharing it! A true test of the spirit and the transformational power of prayer in the face of extreme darkness.
Also when you have a second stop by my site - I left something for you!
Salut du Midi!

Sherri said...

Inspirational post, Peggy. Thank you.

sizzie said...

I heard a church sermon once about forgiveness. The speaker talked of The Last Supper and forgiving Judas. I could see by the faces of the congregation as they nodded in agreement, that they, too, though that if Judas suddenly dropped in, they could forgive him his act of betrayal.

What seems impossible oftentimes, though, is forgiving the small slight. The over heard insult from someone you thought was your friend. Rudeness from a stranger while shopping. A neighbor who is too loud. Shouldn't those things be so small that they earn automatic forgiveness? And yet they seem much more difficult to get over than the huge injustices.

Thank you for posting such thought provoking topics.

Sydney said...

I am doing a paper on an elective I"m taking on Forgiveness right now. I didn't realize this but A Course in MIracles is all about how we choose love through the process of Forgiveness.

The F word has been a tough one for all of us. I think because we feel it means we must be willing to say we were wrong, or we are saying what someone else did was right or OK or that they will do it to us again if we soften our hearts.

It is a choice that we make to relieve OURSELVES of the suffering... so right you are. And it has nothing to do with what the other person does. It's a way to come to peace within your own heart and use the energy it took from you for far better things.

Remember when, about 2 years ago, a man went into an Amish school and shot those young children... how quickly, sincerely and totally they forgave the man for taking something so precious from them.

There is so many subtle things to be said about HOW to get there though. I was going to do a post on it once my paper is done. The class was really transformative...

sizzie said...

Peggy, I am still thinking on this subject. See what you started?! I think that often it seems necessary to understand the deed to be able to forgive it. Your post and the example you give seems to say it is not necessary to understand to forgive. That the act of forgiveness transcends understanding the act. I will have to think some more on it, but I think I like that idea. What do you think?

neetzy said...

This woman is remarkable. I have not suffered nearly as much but have difficulty forgiving as freely.
Some things are easier to forgive than others. Some hurts need to be re-evaluated before they are completely forgiven. While I admire this woman, there are some women and children who "forgive" abusers out of guilt.

Bee said...

I feel quite weepy reading this.

It is an ongoing puzzle that the human spirit can be so generous and large and yet also so small and mean.

Barry said...

However hard or difficult I can't think of anything more likely to save the world than forgiveness.

I can't think of anything more likely to perpetuate the current violence and cruelty we see around us than vengeance.

But somehow, if this were a race, I can't see forgiveness winning.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Forgiveness is a choice me make and it is the one essential component o self-healing, as you have so eloquently stated. Forgiveness in the face of such incomprehensible evil is truly a remarkable act, and one we can all learn from.

Poetikat said...

No word from you in a while, Peggy. Hope all is well, and it's just that your blogging has been set aside temporarily in favour of other responsibilities or pursuits. Miss you!


neetzy said...

I miss you. I hope you didn't think my comments were in any way meant to dishonor this woman or trivialize her experience.

Anonymous said...

Enthusiasts of the films of Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski (Blind Chance, Dekalog, The Double Life of Véronique, Three Colours Trilogy, etc) are invited to drop by my chatroom at the Brasserie Alizé on the anniversary of the director’s death, this coming Friday evening, 13 March 2009, from around 1800 GMT. Please pass on the invitation to others and hopefully see you there!

Peggy said...

Thank you, Carol!

Derrick, this is an easy subject for me to talk about abstractly, but you're right, when it comes down to something heinous (like someone abducting or molesting my child) could I do it? I think that's where the issue of building your life around courage, faith and love--the building blocks of forgiveness--comes in. Then when the tests come, the pieces are there.

Peggy said...

Meri, she's my hero. So inspirational!

Kat, I'll check out your friend's blog. Thanks for the referral. Hotel Rwanda was so jarring, wasn't it. Scott Peck wrote a book about "group mentality" brutality. What would be unconscionable for one person alone is acceptable in a group or mob. He asserts it's because in a group, no one feels they bear the brunt of blame or guilt. It's stunning to me what human beings are capable of doing to each other, and often in the name of relgion. But that's another topic... :-)

Peggy said...

Delwyn, that's so true! She most likely learned this from her family, her parents. What a good reminder that is for us to teach our children well, but, maybe more importantly, to model for them the behavior we hold in such high esteem.

Reya, thanks for your honesty. It's true, the divine component can't be overlooked, but lest these posts turn into a forum on how forgiving God is and how forgiving Christians should be, I chose to let Immaculee's story speak to everyone right where they are. It's a powerful one, isn't it?

Dancing Doc, thank you so much for your thoughtful gesture! :-)

Peggy said...

Sizzie, it's true about small slights. I think what gives them such power over us is the misunderstandings that are often buried underneath the surface. I wonder sometimes if it would astound another to know they had wounded us so deeply with flippant words. Makes me more conscious of what I say.

Neetzy, thank you for your thoughts. Again, the point of this is not to assign blame or guilt to someone, but to release the poisoning effect holding on to such bitterness and hatred can have on your own heart. Rather than holding onto a burden, this is about letting it go.

Peggy said...

Bee, it amazes me, too, how large-hearted and generous people can be and how very brutal and selfish they can be. In the last few years, we've seen horrendous natural disasters strike all over the world. It consistently amazes me to see the best and worst of people come out in these types of desperate situations. Thanks for your insight.

Barry, while forgiveness may not win the battle, it will win the war, one strong person at a time. Keep hope, my friend!

Pamela, well said!

Mr. Fabbri, what fun! Although I don't consider myself an enthusiast of Kieslowski, I am a student, thanks to you. :-)