The issue of forgiveness is a fraught one in a place which has come through decades of violent conflict. SEAMUS FARRELL is chairing a session on the subject in the Verbal Arts Centre next Tuesday morning.
Here he looks at some of the issues.
We may be well into a new century but the legacy of the conflict lives on in those wounded and those bereaved, and, let me stress, that’s not just from before the Belfast Agreement but those who have suffered since then.
When I say lives on, I mean lives on. The incident that shattered people’s lives can remain as alive for them today as the day it happened. It is as if for some they died the day the incident happened and haven’t really lived since. And such pain can travel on into succeeding generations if not dealt with.
Some have been able to move on though they have not necessarily forgiven the perpetrators; and I would be very surprised if anyone has been able to forget. Some have been able to forgive, sometimes immediately, sometimes after a long struggle. Some have not felt able to forgive.
I’d like to make a plea for respect for every victim and for their right to be where they are at as they seek to cope with what has happened. It is for the individual to choose whether or not to forgive and IF the choice is made to forgive then it is up to each person to decide how and when to do so.
And there are those – individuals and organisations – that have information that victims have a right to have and that would help them greatly to find closure and that could lead to their getting justice in relation to what happened. But these people are sittin’ on it.
The remorsefulness or otherwise of perpetrators, the willingness or otherwise of those who have information about an atrocity to provide it to relatives as is their entitlement, and to the courts so that justice can be done - all of these have a bearing on a victim’s ability to forgive. In the context of continued attempts to justify the violence, and collusion between state and paramilitary bodies to obstruct the process of truth recovery, I consider any preaching to victims about their need to forgive as offensive.
Dealing with the past has many interconnecting layers.There is truth telling and truth recovery. There is enabling justice to be done. And there is forgiveness and reconciliation.
There’s more too, but these themes are especially central and will be explored in our Towards Understanding and Healing workshop at 10am, on Tuesday 21st May in the Verbal Arts Centre as part of Community Relations Week.
Towards Understanding and Healing (TUH), the hosts for this workshop, offers help to people to share their story, without putting them under any pressure, In that process participants may discover that the tears of two women widowed by the death of their husbands, no matter how different the context, are the very same tears of loss and hurt. That’s because, beyond the compartments that history and politics places us in, we are human beings and human tears are always the same.
The opportunity that is offered by TUH to victims can help them to begin to ask new questions- questions such as: Do I need forever to carry the rage, the hurt, the anger? Is it good for me? Is it good for my family?
Is it eating me up like a cancer, affecting my relationships, my sleep, the possibility for me to be happy?
I can’t and wo’nt ever forget either the event and its consequences or the memory of my loved one. But for the sake of me and mine, can I let go of the pain? And let it leave me alone?
Can I withdraw the perpetrator’s ability to continue to hurt me over and over all day and every day?
Can I allow myself to be gentle with myself and stop beating myself up? (For “gentle” read forgiving. Be gentle with/forgiving of myself).
Which brings me to our own Richard Moore. I recently heard him say that what helped him to forgive the soldier who blinded him was the realisation that “holding a grievance against somebody is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die”.
I think the starting point for forgiveness is coming to understand that it is about doing myself a favour. But it can be and often is a long and hard road to that understanding. And victims may need help on that journey. Not lectures or bad religion, but the rest of us standing alongside them in a thoroughly human, compassionate non-judgemental manner.