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You may have seen the award-winning documentary “As We Forgive” featured on PBS this month. It’s a heartbreaking but hopeful look at the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide — where a million people were slaughtered in 100 days — especially as experienced by two Rwandan women, Rosaria and Chantale. The film follows these two women as they come face-to-face with the men who destroyed their families with unthinkable violence — and then make the choice to forgive them when the men (and thousands of other perpetrators) are released back into Rwanda.
From the film: “If they tell you that a murderer has been released into the neighborhood, how would you feel? And this time we weren’t releasing one. We were releasing forty thousand.”
My fellow freelance writer Catherine Clair Larson has written As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda, a book inspired by this film, and it explores the same stories from the film in greater depth. It provides not just a deeper understanding of the genocide, but an examination of the power of forgiveness in other situations, simply by observing how genocide victims have somehow found the strength to forgive. It’s such a compelling and necessary read. Difficult subject matter, yes, but incredibly thought-provoking.
I’ve written on forgiveness before for a magazine assignment. I interviewed a Mennonite mother whose child was abducted and killed. I interviewed a pastor’s kid whose family was totally hung out to dry by a church congregation (destroying the family in the process). Different situations, of course, but linked together by their common belief among the victims that the best way to deal with heartache and tragedy was to let it go. To offer forgiveness. To reconcile.
I can’t say I fully understand that kind of extreme forgiveness or even want to understand it, but I’m pretty sure I agree. Faced with tragedy or heartache, you can choose to carry the burden of anger around with you forever. Or you can forgive. It doesn’t take away the pain or grief. But it does help you excape the corrosive burden of anger, bitterness, and revenge. Grief can be turned into strength, but bitterness is almost always detrimental.
Anyway, that’s your helpful thought of the day. I can’t recommend Larson’s book enough. In fact, I have an extra copy of it (I’m keeping one for myself) and will give this copy away. To become eligible for it, simply leave a comment on this post. At 9 am central time tomorrow, I’ll choose at random from all the commenters. The winner gets a free copy.