This article was originally posted about 3 years ago to an earlier version of this blog.
Brian Lahrer conducts a captivating interview with Jeanne Bishop, author of Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with my Sister’s Killer, on the process of forgiveness that began her healing after the death of her sister in the Boston Marathon Bombings.
The violent death of a loved one is one of the most difficult losses we can experience. Though I have not experienced this first hand I have been able to provide support and strength to others who have.
While the incident itself is tragic, the courage of Ms. Bishop to both confront and forgive the surviving Tsarnaev brother is inspiring.
The process of reconciliation with someone who has harmed us is often a difficult task. Its not uncommon for many of us to hold onto hatred and resentment of someone for decades. Rarely is the cause of the harm as heinous as this kind of violent loss, though certainly there are harms which can be more direct and violent.
In the story, Ms. Bishop speaks about the meetings she had with the bomber and how she came to find forgiveness. While the whole story is engaging, she makes 2 points that I think are valuable even to those who are holding onto hatred of another for less.
First she says that holding onto her hatred or resentment of this man would be like “swallowing poison and hoping the other person would die.” A bit cliche and easy to say on the surface, but the analogy is a powerful one.
Investing our emotional and mental energy into distain, hatred and reliving a situation over and over is exhausting. Let me rephrase that…
Often when we are wronged, whether slightly or violently, it can be a healthy reaction to be angry, hurt or betrayed. Expressing that is part of the process of grieving, and can be healthy in overcoming a sense of victimhood.
When we bottle the emotional response up, or let the emotional response drive and define us, we can get into trouble.
When we are a victim of someone else actions, odds are that other person is not thinking of how they wronged you, but left unchecked the emotional response can spend years hijacking our lives. Prolonged anger and sadness can impact our relationships, our own direction, morals and beliefs, and even impact how our nervous system and other bodily functions work.
This state, if prolonged, actual does effect our bodies like a poison. We can hold onto it for years, and whether conscious of the resentment, or buried in our sub-conscious for years, the impact of leaving it unresolved can cause problems (physically and mentally) and ruin our own lives with its impact on relationships and career.
The second point Ms. Bishop makes was a new one for me, but once she said it, I was really blown away by the implications.
When asked if she wanted the man who killed her sister to be put to death she said, “He may deserve to die, but I don’t deserve to kill him.”
What that says about her sense of self-worth, about her understanding of her own pain and the desire not to inflict more suffering in the world was is beautiful.
It’s not a “hippy-dippy,” spiritual form of finding forgiveness. It speak directly to her understanding of the pain of the loss of her sister, of the acts of the terrorist and their impact on him, and most clearly if she sought “an eye for an eye,” she would be prolonging a chain a violence and hurt that has impacted far to many lives and brought far too much sorrow.
All in all the interview raises some good questions to own the answers too – no judgement, just clarity….
Is any act ever unforgivable?
Being a victim isn’t something we choose in the moment of the act, but is it our choice how long we hold onto the title?
So, who are you unwilling to forgive?
Do you deserve to carry the weight of perpetuating violence, even if its justified?