Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Extreme Forgiveness

A friend of mine has a rather odd passion for reading obituaries, but every once in a while she turns up a gem.  

Her latest find was Eric Lomax who died this month at age 93.  Lomax was a British Army officer who was captured and tortured by the Japanese during  the fall of Singapore in 1942.  Savagely beaten, water boarded and forced with thousands of others to build the infamous Burma-to-Siam railroad, featured in the 1957 film "The Bridge on the River Kwai," Lomax deliberately avoided all things Japanese and went more than 45 years without speaking to a Japanese person, embodying a common POW attitude of "don't forget, don't forgive."  

However, late in his life after suffering post-traumatic stress for decades, Lomax decided to find the man who had been his principal interrogator during his imprisonment.  He wound up finding Takashi Nagase, who had published his own memoir of shame and regret and financed a Buddhist temple at the bridge to atone for his actions during the war.  Nagase's story prompted a meeting between the two elderly enemies on the bridge where they had engaged fifty years earlier.  

After their meeting, Lomax wrote Nagase a letter assuring him of his total forgiveness and Nagase said, "I think I can die safely now."   The meeting between the two was filmed for a television documentary, "Enemy, My Friend?"  Lomax later wrote a memoir titled "The Railway Man," which is now being made into a movie, starring Colin Firth.

Extreme forgiveness.  How does one forgive the most unimaginable cruelty?  What is that first step of letting go of that pain and anger?  And, if Eric Lomax can forgive the man who tortured him, can those of us who carry such minor, everyday wrongs, not do likewise?  

And, a question that has always confounded me … is it necessary for the other person to apologize before forgiveness can be granted?  Perhaps it's a two-step process … I can let go of anger and hurt … but, before there is that slate-cleaning moment, the other person has to express sorrow and request forgiveness.  Then there is reconciliation.

About this image:  Crack in the World

Perhaps the first step in forgiveness and reconciliation is that both hearts have to crack open.

7 comments:

  1. I have found such freedom in forgiveness even when the other person who wronged me so harshly, physically and emotionally, has never owned up to their.part. I wish one day they realize the incredible pain they caused me, and continue to perpetuate, but forgiveness isnt for them, its for me. To no longer allow them to victimize me by those.past actions.

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  2. I have found such freedom in forgiveness even when the other person who wronged me so harshly, physically and emotionally, has never owned up to their.part. I wish one day they realize the incredible pain they caused me, and continue to perpetuate, but forgiveness isnt for them, its for me. To no longer allow them to victimize me by those.past actions.

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  3. Annie ... I think that's the wisest course ... maybe it's the difference between forgiveness, which can be one-way and reconciliation, which has to be two-way. Anyway, I'm glad you can let go of those things from the past ... you have such a lovely present.

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  4. How interesting that you, Louise, and I all wrote on the same topic today.

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  5. Forgiveness...such a huge topic....billions of words written about it. How to do it. Why we need to. What I know is that until we forgive others, it is very hard for us to forgive ourselves. For me, and I'm not talking about childhood instances, but for me, in almost every case where I need to forgive someone else, there is a flip side of my own participation in whatever happened to cause the pain. I ignored my intuition, or I accepted abuse, or I was out of my integrity....and on and on.
    You ask if there needs to be reconciliation...not for me. I may want the other person to see my point of view...see how they wronged me, but that often doesn't happen. People hold on to their stuff just like I do...sigh...a very long time ago, I wrote a letter to my father, who never liked me. In fact I can't ever remember him even giving me the warmth of a hug. I wrote him a letter telling him my truth, what I felt about our relationship. Why I had stopped communicating with him. And his letter back to me held no apology. And that set me free.
    A little trick I've learned is to bless the person I am having difficulty with. Breathe in peace, let let out the words ''bless you''.
    Today I am trying to forgive myself for not holding myself in higher regard as I end a relationship that I can only call abusive, dysfunctional and hurtful....
    I have to find that forgiveness before I can heal and move on...or I will carry it with me into all other relationships.
    a hug for you...
    xo

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  6. Julie ... lovely. Isn't it interesting how when we tell someone our truth, we can also recognize theirs ... and then let go. May this ending be the beginning of a deeper joy and love for yourself.

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  7. Hello Joyce -- forgiveness sets me free. It releases me from holding onto that which harms me. It releases me from the past.

    Whether or not 'the other' knows, or accepts is not relevant. What is relevant is that I let go.

    Beautiful ponderings my friend.

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