A Stunning Moment Over a Pizza

A few evenings ago, my wife and I were enjoying a pizza at a local pizza joint. Our conversation ranged from issues at work to how our, now, adult children were making their ways in the world. While talking about our daughter, I started to relate how she and I had had such a wonderful trip to the Netherlands almost a decade ago.

As soon as I said that, I thought, ”Wait a moment. There was something about that trip that didn’t sit well with me. What was it?” And then I remembered, “Oh! Of course, my daughter and I narrowly missed being murdered at the hands of drug dealing terrorists!” Then I realized, “I hadn’t thought about the Vondelpark shooting incident all that day and for at least one day prior.”

I had forgiven the gunman quite some time ago. Now, I was having brief periods of forgetting. What a blessing!

I'll Hold My Breath Until I Am Blue in the Face!

Many years ago, I saw a light comedy movie about a middle class American family. I think it was a Doris Day movie. Several times during the movie the family’s youngest child would try to force his parents to give into his demands by proclaiming, “If you don’t give me what I want, I will just hold my breath until I am blue in the face! Then you will be sorry.” Well, of course, the child could not compel his parents to submit to his will by this threat. And, the child’s need to breathe always won out.

Yet, when we refuse to forgive someone until they pay a penalty, show honest remorse which is acceptable to us, or otherwise reform their ways, aren’t we acting like the child in the movie? If we condition the granting of our forgiveness upon the other person’s compliance with our terms we are not forgiving. Our insistence upon this jumping through various hoops means we are still hooked in to the other person. We are not letting go. We are not finally agreeing to leave all the negative energy behind, back there, back then.

Forgiveness means to let go. When we are able to let go, grace can then fill the mental/emotional/spiritual space previously occupied by the wrong or the betrayal done to us. Like the old television commercial of several decades ago advised, a wife recommending Alka-Seltzer to her husband to get rid of his upset stomach-----“Try it. You’ll like it.”

"Forgive and Forget"

You have heard this old saying, "Forgive and Forget."  One can forgive.  One can forget.  But, in my opinion, it is next to impossible to do both.  If there is someone in your life you need to forgive, chances are that person did something which left an emotional wound in your memory and upon your soul.  As such, it is hard to forget that person and that injury. 

In the saying, the "for" syllables in forgive and in forget leave an impression upon us.  Maybe that is why we have this old saying.  It is catchy.  But, I think it might be more accurate if we were to say, "Forgive and be Free."  Or, even more accurately, "Forgive and gain Freedom."  When you choose to forgive, you do not usually forget.  But, remembering does not continue to hold the emotionally searing pain any longer.  When you choose to forgive you are free to look to the future. You have not erased the past. Instead, you have put the past to rest.

My Own Path to Forgiveness

Flasbacks of Abuse
In my memoir, Flashbacks of Abuse, I recount how in late March, 2004 my then twelve year old daughter and I were on a ten day vacation to Amsterdam, the Netherlands.  On the first day of our vacation, we stumbled into the middle of a gangland kidnapping.  Numerous gunshots were fired by one gang-member attempting to kill or, at least, terrorize a rival gang-member as he fled the scene.  My daughter and I were in the line of fire.  One gunshot missed us by only three feet when it hit the front passenger door of a parked car next to which we were standing while we watched the dangerous street drama unfolding before us.  I pushed my daughter to the ground and covered her up with my own body.  A minute, or so, later, the gunman stood over us with his .45 calibre Thompson sub-machine gun.  Our fate was about to be decided by this gangster.  Fortunately, he ordered us to simply stay down.  We did.  He ran off.

In the days, weeks, and months that followed, I was struck down, not by a bullet but, by a case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  With a great deal of prayer, introspection, therapy, and time, I healed from this.

For some time, I was quite angry and disturbed at the gunman for nearly killing me and my daughter.  I could not possibly forgive him for his recklessness.  Also, for some time, I was therefore
stuck.  I finally knew I had to, somehow, put this behind me.  I realized I had to choose forgiveness if I were to live any sort of healthy life.

With a good deal of self discipline, I chose to forgive the gunman.  Each day, several times a day, I forgave him.  When intrusive thoughts of the shooting entered into my mind, I forgave him.  I forgave and forgave and forgave.  Finally I was free.

The interesting thing about this process was I realized I needed to forgive others in my life, namely, Steve, my parents' best friend who, many decades before, repeatedly molested me when I was a child and teen-ager.  I did so.  Then, I realized I needed to forgive my parents for all the usual complaints an adult may have about his upbringing.  I forgave them.

The hardest part for me was realizing I needed to take one final leap of faith.  I needed to forgive myself for all of the major and minor wrongs that I had committed in the course of my life.

At this point in my life, I feel the gunman and his near-miss bullets were a heaven-sent gift to me, urging me to forgive and to attain freedom.

I have been blessed.

Forgiving Someone Does Not Absolve Them

When you propose someone choose forgiveness, you are often met with an uncomprehending, "Are you kidding?  After all the things he did to me."

Yes, choose forgiveness.  Forgiving someone does not absolve him of what obligations he may owe to the world or release him from the penalties of the law.  Forgiveness is not about him.  It is about you.  When you choose to forgive, you are saying to yourself, "I recognize the harm that was done to me.  I have been angry or resentful towards that transgressor for a long time.  But, I no longer want to anchor my life or focus my life on that person and what he did to me.  I want to be set free.  I want to leave all that behind me.  I want to stop living in the past and begin living today.  I want to begin looking towards the future.  In a sense, I want the dead to bury the dead."

Choosing to forgive is a one-sided decision.  It does not even have to include any sort of reconciliation with the offender. Choose forgiveness and begin a new life.