I'd been feeling deeply the importance of forgiveness - of one another, of the world, of ourselves - when, in one of those moments of delicious synchronicity, a friend relayed to me the following story. It's a story drawn from the proceedings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: an organization formed after the abolition of apartheid, as a venue for those victimized to come face to face with their perpetrators, and to bring to light the violence that had occurred.
From what I've been told, the story was relayed several years back, in a film about apartheid. It's also rendered in Andrew Harvey's new book, The Hope: A Guide To Sacred Activism. At any rate, I felt it was worth sharing ...
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The Commission brought an elderly black woman face to face with the white man, Mr. Van de Broek, who had confessed to the savage torture and murder of her son and her husband a few years earlier. The old woman had been made to witness her husband’s death. The last words her husband spoke were “Father, forgive them.”
One of the members of the commission turned to her and asked, “How do you believe justice should be done to this man who has inflicted such suffering on you and so brutally destroyed your family?”
The old woman replied, “I want three things. I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial.” She stopped, collected herself, and then went on. “My husband and son were my only family. I want, secondly, therefore, for Mr. Van de Broek to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out to him whatever love I have still remaining in me. And finally, I want a third thing. I would like Mr. Van de Broek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. Van de Broek in my arms, embrace him and let him know that he is truly forgiven.
The assistants came to help the old black woman across the room. Mr. Van de Broek, overwhelmed by what he had just heard, fainted. And as he did, those in the courtroom—friends, family, neighbors, all victims of decades of oppression and injustice—began to sing “Amazing Grace.”