When Forgiveness Incites Rage

Ah, the good ol’ days! Travel used to be so simple then.

When I was a kid, part of the excitement of any trip south of Chicago was the picnic in the car. There were always sandwiches, fried chicken and cookies. If we were lucky, there was cake. If someone had to tinkle, we merely pulled onto a shoulder and ran down an embankment, out of view.

We knew where we could stop and where we couldn’t; we knew what we could say and what we couldn’t. Choose the wrong stop, say the wrong word, have the wrong expression on your face, and the males in the car would most likely inspire an even larger picnic. Folks would come from miles around, toting their blankets and young ones to see humans hanged from trees. And this was wholesome family entertainment.

How soon we forget those perilous times. Here I set off on the road to Forgiveness…the Final Frontier–alone, with no rations, and not the slightest bit of apprehension. What, me worry? Times have changed. I fully expected that I would be able to stop anywhere and that I’d be accepted, if not welcomed.

Earth to Pat: Wake up and smell the coffee. Forgiveness isn’t always embraced. It doesn’t always heal; in fact, sometimes it incites full-blown rage. I found out the hard way.

I posted my Get out of a Jam with the “F” Word essay on Gather.com last week, because the community over there actively shouts back, and we have great dialogue even if we don’t always agree. The “F” Word essay was selected by the Gather editors for the blog site’s home page, which heightened its visibility.

That was good news–and bad news. One reader not only objected to the topic; he characterized it as “cult like, cypto-religious psychobable” that “bleeds over into the islamic cartoon mentality”.

I’m not sure what shift this guy works on the blog police force, but I’ll try not to post again when he’s on duty, lest I inspire another one of those ill-fated picnics. He was particularly outraged that I had the temerity to take it upon myself to do something divine.

“Who and what are YOU, to forgive anything?” he screeched.

Alrighty now. This brother obviously was not having a good Friday, and I apparently hadn’t made it any better. Maybe his paycheck was short, I don’t know. But despite all his ranting, this dude had as much chance of goading me into a wrath-filled tirade as I had of convincing him to give his carcinogenic rage a rest.

But he did get my attention, for a reason that was both peculiar and eerie: It was the second time in less than 24 hours that I’d heard these venomous words. The first time, I was watching a public TV segment about the premiere of the documentary, “Forgiving Dr. Mengele”.

The 80-minute doc profiles a Terre Haute, Indiana woman Eva Mozes Kor, who survived Nazi doctor Josef Mengele’s diabolical medical experiments on 1,500 sets of Jewish twin children. Fewer than 200 survived.

During a public ceremony at Auschwitz in 1995, Eva decided to free herself from those painful memories. As she later told a Catholic Herald reporter, “I realized that I had the power to forgive, that no one could give me the power and no one could take it away. And for a little victim, who was a victim for almost 50 years, to realize that I have the power made me feel very good.”

Eva loved that feeling, so she openly forgave her torturers and the other Nazis whose intolerance of difference led to the murders of her parents, siblings, millions of other Jews, and almost as many Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals.

How dare she.

“Who are YOU to forgive anyone?” another survivor angrily screamed at her, declaring that forgiving the Nazis was an insult to their victims.

Why does forgiveness attract full-blown rage? Who knows? Ask Gandhi. Ask Martin. Ask those who love their anger and pain so much, they’ll resentfully attack others who choose inner peace. Some attacks are more vicious than others, which truly tests one’s resolve to forgive, as Eva discovered when arsonists destroyed her small Holocaust museum.

To err is human, but why do we think that only God can and should forgive? Why is it that when we resolve to act less human and more divine, there are always those who will dramatically demonstrate the difference between the two?

What happens when we decide not to let anger fester inside of us? According to Eva, “I felt immediately a burden of pain was lifted from my shoulders, that I was no longer a prisoner of my tragic past, that I was no longer a victim.”

This, from a woman who was snatched from her parents and older sisters, who stepped over the skeletal corpses of other captive children in the concentration camp latrine, whose young body was poked and probed and injected with germs that were expected to kill her. And we’re still ticked off with someone…about what?

If you ask Eva, she’ll tell you in a minute, “Forgive your worst enemy. It will heal your soul. It will set you free!”

As for me, I’m kicking it into passing gear–and putting my bail bond card on the dashboard, in case I run into another hard-nosed blog cop between here and the Final Frontier.

3 thoughts on “When Forgiveness Incites Rage

  1. Hazel Wagner

    Thank you for your thought provoking messages. Even though I know you and recognized your name on the emails, I had not taken the time to read your messages until recently. My excuse, like it is for so many others, I’m so busy and get so much email that I have to stay focused. I finally took a couple of extra minutes to read your short esays and am now hooked. Please keep them up.

  2. Katheryn Edwards

    As you know, Pat, this essay is right on time at this stage in my life, and I needed to read it. Thank you for putting it out there, and for “telling the truth…joyfully!”God bless,Katheryn

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