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Journalist shares stories of people forgiving others for seemingly unforgivable acts

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Journalist who has been collecting stories of forgiveness for 20 years shares stories of people forgiving others for seemingly unforgivable acts, including killing a 13-year-old girl

  • What if immediate feelings of sadness turned into an urge to forgive?
  • Candace Derksen’s devastated parents decided to forgive their daughter’s killer
  • Journalist Cantacuzino collects true stories about forgiveness

FORGIVENESS: AN EXAMINATION

by Marina Cantacuzino (Simon & Schuster £14.99, 304pp)

Have you ever imagined dealing with something almost too awful to write down? When we think of the murder of someone we love, I suspect most of us would feel a reflex desire to kill the perpetrator in revenge – or at least to see him punished with the full weight of the law .

But what if those immediate feelings of anger and sadness turned into an urge to forgive?

In 1985, when the tied and frozen body of 13-year-old Candace Derksen was found in a shed in Winnipeg, Canada, her devastated parents decided to forgive their daughter’s killer without even knowing who he was.

Rejecting a bleak future of endless renewed loss, horror and anger, they “decided that forgiveness was the only way to deliver them from a life of suffering.” The Derksens’ story is well worthy of Marina Cantacuzino’s sensitive narration, but unfortunately the couple was frowned upon at best and vilified at worst for their point of view: people accused them of not really loving their dead child.

Perhaps the problem with the concept of forgiveness is that it is somehow seen as challenging the natural human impulse to righteous anger. While the truth is much, much more complicated.

On October 12, 1984, Margaret and Norman Tebbit were among 31 people injured in the IRA bombing of the Brighton Grand Hotel.

The decision to forgive can come from the darkest place and an acknowledgment that “if hate is unchecked, it can eventually tarnish.” Journalist Cantacuzino has been collecting true stories about forgiveness since 2003. It was a news story about a father forgiving a doctor who accidentally administered a deadly drug to his three-year-old daughter, leading to the creation of The Forgiveness Project, a secular organization exploring reconciliation and restorative justice through the personal stories of those who have “used their pain as an incentive for positive change.”

Aware that forgiveness is far from easy — and can even add to the pain of those who perceive their grief as challenged — Cantacuzino rejects the simplistic notion that it is a “neat, almost infallible remedy to heal both individual and societal wounds.” .

An example of this is Lord Tebbit. On October 12, 1984, Margaret and Norman Tebbit were among 31 people injured in the Brighton Grand Hotel bombing by the IRA. Lady Tebbit was more seriously injured than her husband; she had fallen through four floors and was trapped for hours. Years of bravely borne suffering followed and she used a wheelchair until her death in 2020. When Lord Tebbit learned that the IRA bomber Patrick Magee would speak at an event in the House of Commons organized by The Forgiveness Project, the former minister snapped: ‘Your project apologizes, rewards and encourages murder.’

Less predictable was Magee’s own reaction. He said to Cantacuzino, “Of course! [His] Crusade against me is completely understandable. . . Why should he have an obligation to forgive? If I was in his position and someone hurt my relative, I don’t know if I could forgive it.’

This thought-provoking book is an investigation, not a polemic. Throughout the author even challenges her own ideas, always aware of the limitations of restorative forgiveness.

The key question is certainly: what is forgiveness for? Cantacuzino makes it clear through compelling case histories that it is not necessarily compassion for the sinner, but rather a way for those who have sinned to lighten their own burden.

This thought-provoking book is an investigation, not a polemic.  Throughout the author even challenges her own ideas, always aware of the limitations of restorative forgiveness (File image)

This thought-provoking book is an investigation, not a polemic. Throughout the author even challenges her own ideas, always aware of the limitations of restorative forgiveness (File image)

Forgiveness is making peace with things or people you cannot change. So it’s about reconciling psychological pain and letting go of the burden of hatred and revenge.’

At a time when so much is characterized by conflict and people seem more angry than ever, this book offers compassion and calm. It ends with a kind of toolkit, which extracts six ‘ingredients’ of forgiveness from all the stories in the book.

Writing an advice column over many years has made me painfully aware of how bitterness scars so many relationships, and I found this last chapter helpful, inspiring, and full of intelligence and hope. Ultimately, you only find peace by letting go.

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