On Forgiveness

Like a lot of you, I am probably on 9/11 overload, but all of the articles and tv specials have left me thinking about the notion of forgiveness, a virtue which does not come easily for me. For years I have been able to blame this shortcoming on my ethnicity. You see, I am Irish, and we are a mean-spirited and unforgiving people. Notre Dame is, after all, the home of the “Fighting” not the “Forgiving” Irish, and have you ever heard of Irish Alzheimer’s? That’s when you forget everything except the grudge.

After watching Queen Elizabeth charm my Irish cousins a few months ago, though, I suddenly realized that now that all is forgiven in Eire, I can hardly hide behind my flawed DNA any longer.

I recently came across an interesting example of forgiveness from Rwanda, where the Tutsi and the Hutus had engaged in a terrible genocide in the mid 90’s. (By the way: Is there ever a genocide that ISN’T terrible?) Two men, one from each tribe, have taken an unusual approach to reconciliation by going to and from work each day on a bicycle built for two.

This is an eye popper of a story because one of the men had actually killed family members of the other, and yet today they ride together. That image of the two men on a bike, going forward into the future, and the image of Queen Elizabeth, being embraced by the Irish (after connecting with them by speaking perfect Irish!) puts a spring in my step.

If forgiveness can flourish in Rwanda, in Northern Ireland, and in South Africa, then I have to believe it can happen anywhere. Even with me.


5 thoughts on “On Forgiveness

  1. Forgiveness may not be natural in humans and perhaps one needs to attain a higher degree of spirituality in order to forgive. Are there not some things, some acts, some deeds that are simply unforgivable? Why do we live in a world with people telling us that there is a reasonable reason for the most heinous of crimes? The mass murderer had a bad childhood so let’s forgive him? We do not have to retaliate. we can do not have to sentence people to death for their actions, we do not have to get down to their level. That is the point for me. Some things truly are not forgivable but I do not get to mete out the punishment.

  2. Good point.

    I tried to stay away from forgiveness in the context of 9/11 because I haven’t heard of anyone’s asking to be forgiven, and it would seem that forgiveness could only be given by someone who had directly suffered as a result of those attacks…


  3. Your example of the two men on the bike is not great. To my knowledge, the supporters and masterminds of the attacks of 9/11 and others like them, do not have any intention of sharing anything, let alone a bike with the enemy. Should that day ever come, perhaps then would be the time to ask the question about forgiveness. Not in reference to you, but often it seems that those who speak of forgiveness are the ones who have no remorse for their actions, no desire to accept responsibility. They simply want to be forgiven and move on, let’s forget it ever happened. They tend not to believe that they have done anything potentially unforgivable but somehow want to be forgiven anyway.

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