Listening to a talk show recently I sympathized with a reformed hijacker, who, having been caught and sentenced, served his time, was granted parole and has now seen “the errors of his way? To atone for this terrible deed he has gone to see the victim, asked for his forgiveness, hugged and kissed the poor, broken man and then left, feeling righteous and vindicated, ready to teach other miscreants how to behave in society, ready to espouse the phrase “crime does not pay?

But what does the victim do after this visit? Who does he turn to, to feel better? He does nothing, goes nowhere. His jaw was shattered by a bullet passing through his neck, his right hand is mangled, numb as a result of that same bullet speeding through his flesh and bone, uncaring of the hand trying to protect the innocent face. He cannot drive his truck anymore. His wife’s meagre earnings now stretch to pay for everything. Does he forgive his hijacker? He says he does.

It’s easy to forgive others when the devastating results of their deeds and actions haven’t touched you, personally.

Forgive ?to pardon, to exonerate, to excuse, absolving, to vindicate ? such righteous and admirable words, makes one feel all warm and fuzzy inside, right?

“Forgive?for the person whose partner has forgotten their anniversary date is easy.

“Forgive?for the person whose partner has committed adultery is not so easy.

“Forgive?for the person whose child was hit and maimed by a drunk driver is incredibly difficult, but time will heal, they say.

“Forgive?for the widow/widower whose partner was dragged from the car - shot and left to die, whose car was driven away leaving the broken body in the middle of the road, whose nearly lifeless body was again violated, this time by a passerby who riffled through the pockets, taking whatever there was to take, - what does “forgive?mean to that person?

We live in a violent world ?from the idyllic islands where rebels run riot, to the land where gangsters walk tall, to my country where law and order seem to be merely words, to the other side of the globe where petty thievery is a way of life, to the football-mad nation, where hooligans run amok if their team loses.

Why are we going through this period of sweeping crime, of needless violence?

For years the ‘majority?of people in my country were treated as inferior. Indeed, they rode in second class rail carriages, used separate toilet facilities, separate entrances to bottle stores, enjoyed inferior beaches, were paid miserable wages. But, far worse than that, they were treated as faceless people, deaf to the conversations of the “privileged? comprehension of a “white?conversation was deemed beyond them.

Now that they have faces and voices and are using them, we don’t understand, and certainly we don’t like it.

I love you ?I hate you ? short, simple phrases, lengthy, complex emotions with such a magnitude of degrees of intensity, such long-term consequences.

I love you because you are my child, my father, mother, or my friend, my fellow man, whoever. I hate you because as that privileged person, you have hurt me, thus that intensity I felt for you has shifted from one side of the line to the other. The divide so fine, the shift immense. This is the ‘normal?shift between love and hate.

Not so in a country where certain people have been brought up to see that life, especially theirs, is cheap, has no value, that the fewer of ‘them? there are, the better.

Happily the situation has righted itself ?all men are equal in the eyes of the law. Wonderful in theory, unrealistic in reality. The boy who saw his mother go to work every day, slipping on the muddy makeshift road, returning exhausted each night having caught numerous buses and taxis to get to and from work clutching a few cents in her palm, that boy, now a man, must surely find it difficult to adjust to this bright, new world. His mother, now aged and incapable of work, sits at home and waits to die.

Forgiveness for that son is an alien word, it has no meaning. He has to forgive countless thousands of people, over a long period of time, for offences that he cannot itemise ?they have no substance, they did not occur at a particular time, he cannot put a face to the person who insulted his mother, nor can he identify all the people who didn’t give him the respect that any human being deserves.

Forgiveness for this man has a very different meaning. To forgive someone whom you know has perpetrated a dreadful crime against you is very difficult indeed ?imagine being asked to forgive a nation.

Reality also had to be faced by the ‘minority? Some of them had to make the shift from being the boss to being demoted, as it were. Gone are the days when they could call the tune, however unreasonable and distasteful that tune was, and the hapless black man would have to dance to it. Violence of a different kind stirred in the bosom of many. “We was robbed!? Happily most of the minorities have adjusted happily and painlessly, welcoming the changes with open arms and big hearts.

I remember as a kid going to confession each Saturday, in preparation for Sunday mass. I would sit on the hard cold church bench, nervously thinking of four or five ‘sins?that I could confess. The confessional was small, pokey, dim and gloomy. I knelt down and faced a blank wooden wall. I knew that behind that impersonal panel sat “Father?who had the power to send me to hell or heaven ?depending on the sins I had committed over the past week or so. I rattled off my prayers, confessed my customary few sins, received my penance and absolution. That was it! All forgiven! Easy, huh?

Someone very close to me was murdered a number of years back and his murderer was never found. All these years I have hated. Twelve years later I still hate, albeit that the bitterness has dissipated significantly. So whom do I hate, seeing that the perpetrator was never caught? Everyone who had ever committed a crime, large or small came into my ambit of hate. At that time I would not have hesitated to kill that bastard with my bare hands. However, time has ‘healed?my pain. If I met that person today I think my reaction would be anger and sadness ? anger that the person I loved most in the world is not here to share life with me, to grow old with me, and sadness that his killer is alive, seeing, feeling and doing things that he had so easily denied his victim. Certainly, I hope that his life is filled with adversity, that he has contracted a dread disease, that he is sterile, impotent, ugly, uneducated, unloved and unwanted. Never would I wish upon him what he did to me ?that a loved member of his family be killed. My anger needs retribution, it requires disaster to befall his person and space.

So, have I forgiven him? In terms of how I felt then and how I feel now, I believe I have forgiven him. At any rate, I have forgiven him as much as I can, humanly.

The walls we build around us to keep out the hurt also keep out the joy. I have to find a way to open my heart and learn to love totally again.

I must remember that other morning, when I sympathised with a man who had done the exact same thing that was done to my family.

Maybe there is hope for me after all.

To err is human, to forgive ……………………??

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