An 8 year old who was forced to shoot her father.
A drug gang taking over a house to sell their drugs.
A girl rescued by a man who killed her parents.
In the last few days I've listened to the pieces of lives told through stories like these.
It's almost too hard to ... tell my story ... find healing ... to forgive ... or move on.
1. We all know the Rwanda genocide that took place, but it's only when it is reduced to an individual's story that the immensity really strikes home. Last night I listened to the story of how, as a young child of 8, she was abducted by the rebel army along with all other children in her village. She was singled out and taken back to the village, and forced to kill her own father. Why? Because killing a loved one would supposedly make her into a strong fighter. Years later she saw across the street the man who made her do that; he is walking free on the streets as the nation struggles to reconcile.
2. Someone close to me is involved with people from the city squatter camps, and tells me of a struggling family living in a shack and barely making ends meet. A local drug gang take over their house for the night to keep moving their dealership and prevent being caught. In fear the family leave for the night, but when they return in the morning everything they own, which was not much to begin with, has been taken. They are back to square one - nothing.
Everyone has an equally real story. Some find it hard to talk about and are in need of a space/place to do so (like postsecret.com), some are very open with their lives, while many oscillate between the two. Our stories differ only in degree, but each is no less important to the person at the center. Some seem extreme, other's apparently trivial, but telling our stories is the beginning of relationship. My own story has little in the way of extreme violence, but includes personal events of near death, relational failures, and a shared guilt of growing up passive in an apartheid regime. Some would say I am blessed by comparison to others, but we each still have to deal with what we've received and given.
How does one forgive? How is one forgiven? How ... when retribution seems the logical, rational, and satisfying response? When the victim should be allowed to exact revenge, when we want the perpetrator to rot in hell! (And: what do you do when you're both the victim and perpetrator ... hurting yourself in senseless anger?) And how does one handle the collateral damage through the unwitting involvement of others, or the consequences that hurt across generations?
I suggest it starts with speaking, ends with hearing, and has forgiveness standing in between.
Easy to say, really tough to do.
Last night with the Rwanda people the statement was made "I'm fearful until I begin to speak". Its true: while we hold it inside it eats us up. To speak is an act of the will and takes courage, but lets hurt leak out, and then there's less left behind inside.
And then, to hear! That is a real gift. To hear means to acknowledge, to empathize, because in hearing we pick up some of the other's burden and lighten their load. We have so few who know how to hear. Platitudes and sympathies abound, nice sounding words. But really hearing?
Hardest of all, standing in between speaking and hearing, is forgiveness. Forgiveness is the one human characteristic that is so strongly admired and yet so seldom practiced, because it's (almost) too hard.
It is clear that forgiveness brings healing. It is clear that the other person's response is not central to the outcome, because its me that needs to forgive others for my sake, not theirs, else my anger destroys me. And I need to be forgiven by others so I can be restored. Giving forgiveness in speaking, accepting forgiveness in hearing.
And that's what is too hard ... almost. Yes, the stories are tragic, and the damaged lives make me feel helpless. But to forgive is to negate the other persons hold on me. As long as I continue to harbor unforgiveness, I am letting someone else have power over me. While someone has power over me, I am too weak to help those in need.
Many Rwandans have found the courage to forgive and escape their extreme experiences. Many in my country have done so to move beyond racial divides. And like everyone I too find forgiveness hard, but am freed every time I can.
So I need to talk. Talk to God, talk to others, talk to those I hurt, talk to those who hurt me. I need the courage to forgive so I can find release.
Easy to say, really tough to do.
(And what about receiving forgiveness ... that's about as hard, and deserves it's own blog post.)