Over two sessions a group of inmates watched the video, “Forgiveness: Stories for Our Time.” A Canadian production, the film features four individuals who experienced horrific losses, shared their stories of pain and the challenge to find a way forward through forgiveness.
The first story is of Lesley Parrott, whose daughter, Allison, was brutally raped and murdered by a serial sex offender in Toronto. Ms. Parrott forgave the man and expressed her desire for him to find healing.
Set in Northern Ireland, the second story follows Alan McBride through the death of his wife, a victim of an IRA terrorist bombing in Belfast. Mr. McBride declines to describe his “letting go” of anger and enmity toward the bomber and the IRA as “forgiveness.” But he does find healing and commits himself to working for reconciliation between Protestants and Catholics.
Julie Nicholson is featured in the third story. An Anglican vicar, Reverend Nicholson loses her daughter to a jihadist terrorist bombing in London. She affirms that forgiving the suicide bomber would be inappropriate. She leaves the church’s ministry and becomes known as the pastor who can’t forgive.
The last story is of Anne Marie Hagan. Her father was killed in his living room and in the presence of his family by an axe-wielding neighbor suffering from an untreated mental illness. She recounts the impact on her life and a lengthy struggle with anger and desire for revenge. But she is later moved to forgive and experiences a profound change in her life.
So we watched these four stories. I gave the class members opportunity to journal their thoughts. One wrote these words:
“I don’t know how the woman could forgive the guy for killing her father… I don’t get the guy who forgave the bomber for killing his wife… I just don’t get it… I just don’t get it… I just don’t get them at all, how they can do it. I don’t think I can do it. Maybe one day. But I don’t think I can do it.”
I consider it unfair to show a video such as this and ask the viewers, “What would you do if you were the person suffering so great a loss?” How can we really know what we would do? So I don’t ask that question.
But I do want viewers to express what these stories cause them to think and feel. Some will say that such stories make them think the painful things they have experienced pale by comparison. Some say such stories are depressing. Some say such stories inspire them to try and be more forgiving.
Sometimes I wonder why I continue to teach and promote forgiveness to men in prison. And then I remember what learning how to forgive meant for my life. And I also remember that putting forgiveness on the table for public discussion in places like prisons just might contribute to…well…forgiveness, which can only but make the world a better place.