The Art, and Act, of Forgiveness
The other day, I watched one of the most moving films I have ever seen in my life.
It wasn’t Titanic, or The Notebook. It wasn’t Schindler’s List or The Green Mile.In fact, I had never even heard of it before. It was a TV movie called “Bond of Silence”.
The movie featured actors I had never come across in my movie-watching career, which is usually confined to TV movies as I get fidgety when it comes to things that don’t have commercial breaks. I must have tuned in about ten minutes into the movie, enough to skip past the rather unimportant credits, horrible intro music, and scenery, scenery, scenery.
From what I could gather, it was New Year’s Eve. Two houses on the same street across from each other were having a party. One household was full of drunk teenagers, the other house held six adults; three married couples, two sleeping children upstairs, wine, and board games.
When midnight hit, the teenage party became louder and louder, prompting the three husbands, to go over and tell the kids to keep it down a bit. One of the men, Bob, who had lived in the house across the street, was very good friends with the parents of the boy who was having a party. So you can only imagine how upset he was when he found six or seven teenagers in his friends’ room smoking pot. He calmly told them to take the party downstairs.
Shortly after, one of the men that had made the trip across the street with him walked into the room to find him lying on the ground, not breathing.
An investigation concluded that he had died of blunt force trauma to the head, despite it initially being assumed that he died of a heart-attack. His wife, who had been across the street at home with her two friends the whole time, had no idea of what was going on.
The movie followed her journey toward closure. Nearly the whole town had rallied against her after one of the young teens in the room that night had been arrested. She was told to “leave them alone” and that “they were innocent”. Yet still, she persisted, wanting nothing but to be able to answer her children’s questions about where their father went, and why he wasn’t coming back.
For months and months, she felt as if she had been conducting the investigation alone, as the lead detective on the case had become tired of turning up nothing. Every lead led to nothing. No one would talk. The case was at a standstill.
There was one other option though. And that was to speak to perhaps the most intoxicated young teens there were that night, as he was present in the room, and may have held the key to what really happened that night. She thought that maybe if he could just remember who it was that punched her husband, who it was that kicked him, it might break the case wide open.
Finding him turned out to be very difficult though, as he, ever since that night, had become involved with heavy drugs and run away from home. But one day, he turned up at the police station.
“Just let me talk to him,” she said to the detective. He looked at her as if she was crazy, wondering what in the world that could possibly accomplish.
“I’m a mother. I know how to talk to kids. He’s probably scared, but he definitely wants to get it off of his chest,” she explained.
Within a few days, she sat with him in a room, face to face with the young boy that might be able to tell her who killed her husband. She showed him pictures of her children, of her husband, of her entire family together. She then looked at him, in this complete state of vulnerability and said,
“Please. Just tell me what happened.”
He agreed to talk to the detectives. She watched the interview from behind the one-way glass. And he explained that he was the one that killed her husband. He talked about being so fed up of always being picked on, bullied, and undermined by his peers that when the first group of guys got her husband down on to the ground and left, he stayed and took out his anger. He said that he had kicked him and kicked him until he couldn’t go on any longer. And then he left.
He was placed under arrest shortly after completing the interview and walked out of the police station.
She stood and watched him approach her, his face a mess from the trauma of reliving the night he became a murderer, her face a mess from discovering the truth. And as he approached, she wiped her tears away immediately, as if to be strong for him. Then she gave him one of the most gracious, graceful, and grateful looks I have ever seen one human give to another in my life.
In that moment, it was just understood that she forgave him.
I cried and I cried and I cried, not knowing how to respond to the simplicity, but depth and meaning of this scene. I thought about what this meant in the context of my own life, of all of our lives, and how important forgiveness really is.
The movie was based on a true story. The wife, Katy, went on to work with the killer, Ryan, in high schools, and talk about the dangers of alcohol and over-intoxication. The final scene of the movie was a real-life clip of them at a high school hugging after giving a presentation.
Sometimes we get upset at people because they hurt our feelings, because they blow us off, because they say something offensive, because they break our hearts, or just because. We hold grudges of the ultimate magnitude because we don’t know how to forgive, but most often because we do not want to forgive.
But in this case, there was a woman who lost her husband. Who had to be a single parent to two innocent children for the rest of her life. Yet she was still able to forgive the person responsible for all that. She was able to say, “I accept, I understand, and I forgive you.” By forgiving him, she allowed herself the chance at a life. A real life.
If she were to carry with her in her heart the anger that the everyday person would feel, can you imagine what waking up everyday would be like? She would overlook the joys of the simplest moments and indulge instead in the hatred and animosity that she may have felt, even if only for a brief moment, over and over again.
When we choose not to forgive people, we choose to be prisoners of the past. When we choose forgiveness, we choose to be students and residents of the future. This means that we get to learn, we get to teach, but most of all, we get to live.
The question we have to ask ourselves is how we can move on from these people, these situations, if we cannot find it in our hearts to forgive. If everyday we wake up with baggage from yesterday, how can we move into tomorrow with room in our suitcases for lessons, for relationships, for growth and knowledge?
There are two misconceptions about forgiveness. The first one is that you need an apology in order to forgive. False. You can forgive someone even if they are not sorry the same way you can hold a door open for someone who might not say thank you, or for someone who might go through the other one anyway. You are simply declaring that your door is open anyway.
The second misconception about forgiveness is that it is for the other person, not you. False. Completely false. In fact, forgiveness is almost more so for yourself than for anyone else.
Forgiveness is your freedom.
You might be holding on to a grudge, or two, or three, and you may not even know it. It may be locked so deeply away in the secret vaults and hidden chambers of your heart that you feel you are completely free. But ask yourself, are you?
If you ask me, Katy is free. Maybe Ryan is too. He spent 5 years in jail for the murder, and I’m sure that gave him a lot of time to think. While some people might think that 5 years is nothing for someone who took the life of another, Katy might think that 5 years is just enough for him to have really reconciled his heart. And isn't that worth more than a man who spends 25 years in prison but comes out the same person he entered as?
In the movie, she said, “this is not about revenge. It’s not about vengeance. It’s about peace.”
Everyone deserves peace. Even Ryan. But the truth is, we will never be at peace, we will never be free, until we can truly let go. Letting go doesn’t just mean letting go of the things that have been said and done to us, but also the things we have said and done to ourselves. So let go, and live on.
Not everyone deserves forgiveness, but everyone, and I mean everyone, deserves to forgive.