Q: Who was that Canadian suffragette from the thirties – the first women MP ….. who said “Never apologize”.
A: Agnes McPhail, prison reformer, disarmament advocate, co-founder of the Old Age Pension and the Elizabeth Fry Society.
So, how does a person who devoted her life to peace come to say that apologies are not the way forward?
I’ve been encountering the subject of forgiveness lately. It’s interesting that it comes up on Remembrance Day when we say “Lest we forget”.
The human capacity to forget is both blessing and curse. There’s the “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it” thing. And then there’s that failsafe thing in our brains that protects us from carrying around past harm – the way that the pain of loss diminishes over time – the way that we are able to remember what we choose to remember – and let the moss of time grow over the rest.
Someone said to me this week that Forgiveness is not an act but a way of being. (I wish I could remember who – ha ha) This has got me thinking. How to be a forgiving person?
One of the best ways I know to do this is a very simple exercise. I use my imagination. After I look at someone and size them up and judge them – and catch myself doing that – I take another look through GOD’s eyes.
Inevitably what I see is a child. I can see a child even in well worn skin. I see a child with years of hurt and long walks with heavy burdens. I see how cynicism seeps in. I see how defenses get put up like fences. I see how suffering can make my neighbours, and that guy in the mirror, act like jerks. I see how nations can be as cruel to one another as pre-teen girls.
And the child I see through the MAKER’s eyes is always so precious to the ONE who watches.
You know how simple it is to look at young children and see hope and promise?
GOD never loses that ability. GOD always see hope and promise in every person. In people living without homes, in people crippled and unable to give – or so we think. In People neck deep in their possessions and the time that possessions absorb. In People swamped by schedules too full to take a look at what they’d rather forget. GOD sees the soul trying to find its way to the surface, through the pain, through the walls, through the history that tells children to stop playing and get real – the theft of imagination’s power.
The most powerful story of forgiveness I’ve heard – and there are many – is the guy recently released from prison after 18 years when it was finally proven that he was innocent of a sexual assault conviction. In the radio interview he simply said “we all have to help each other out – that’s what this life is about”. He expressed no bitterness for the loss of his freedom. He was simply ready to get on with the next step forward – getting his teeth fixed.
John O’Donahue tells a story of a prisoner who encounters another ex-con on the street after their release. His old cell mate wants to talk about how he would love to meet “that guard” who was their tormentor for so long. The comment of the first guy was that “he was still in prison”.
“Forgive but don’t forget” is another way I’ve heard to try to resolve this distance between letting go – and making sure we don’t get hurt again.
I’m not sure how I can really live in that place of forgivness – if I’m still carrying the pain – if I’ve put up a guard – if I’m watching with eagle-eye care for that next betrayal.
Young Children have this amazing ability to move on. I recently sat at a table with a young brother and sister. It amazed me how they could tear at each other one minute and happily play together the next? Has it got to do with the container of adult supervision they’re in? If they are fundamentally secure within the protection of the adult world – isn’t that what allows them to let go of the moment to moment pain and get back to their play?
And if that trust gets broken by the adults – then children need to become like adults – watching and ready – concerned with survival and how to make sure the hurt doesn’t happen again.
Most of us have been able to bury those offenses of the adult world on childhood. It happens to us all – sooner or later we abuse our children’s trust – or we fail to protect our children – and what hurts a parent more than to see how they’ve hurt their own child?
But the cost of burying that pain and vowing to “never forget” is living life inside the prison cells of our own fear. From where could we discover that fundamental confidence that we are cared for and protected? From where do we get the key to unlock the prison door and become free to live out the hope and promise GOD sees in us?
To taste the bitterness of suffering and not spit it out. To feel the sting of betrayal and not run away. To drink the glass of our own failings and not upchuck it. To know that pain is not the worst thing we face. To discover – once again – that the only thing worse than pain – is to let it stop us from the child’s play of “taking care of each other”.
To apologize for being that child of GOD is to scorn the gift of imagination. But to live within the security of a love that surpasses the worst that life can do – is to drop de fences and colour outside the lines.