Subtitle: An Answer to My Own Question (including a reflection on Matthew 18.23-34)
What have I learned and remember from September 11, 2001? I pray (though not deeming to apply my personal learning to geopolitical relations) that I know something more about forgiving.
Forgiving does not mean forgetting. For who can erase from memory a grievous wrong? Nor does forgiving mean foregoing the hard work (once harm has been done) of discerning the rules (new or, if old, then renewed) of accountability and responsibility in our relationships.
Rather, forgiving, through the lens of remembrance, sees the wrong, then, in enlightened self-interest (knowing the corrosive power of bitterness, knowing that in holding fast to resentment there is no possibility of peace with another or one’s self), chooses to forsake the immediate, natural necessity of vengeance and the more long-lived, potentially life-long festering growth of prejudice.
Jesus told a parable of a king who remembered that he was owed an unpayable, unpardonable debt. He confronted the offender with a mind to punish, yet, too, with a heart to hear a plea for clemency. The king forgave the debtor, who, failing to follow the example he had been shown, choosing not to forgive one who was in his debt, soon discovered the disastrous consequences of his absence of mercy.
When I remember harm done unto me, I, these days, also recall my need to forgive. And when I forgive, it is hardly feeble sentimentality, but rather an act of boldest mercy toward another and truest kindness to myself.
This said, forgiveness always is easier for me to contemplate and harder for me to demonstrate, especially when I remember harm done unto me. Nevertheless, September 11, 2001 has taught me not (never!) to deem forgiveness unthinkable. For the health of the soul (and, here, I do apply my personal learning to geopolitical relations) of the nation is at stake.
September 11, 2001, as generational mega-event of horrific proportions, unleashed (and, if not the source, then abetted) two powerful and contradictory extremes of human reaction to terror. One, blinding fear and burning anger that demonizes “the other” as inhuman and justifies retaliation without measure. Two, a flaccid romanticism that idealizes a universal humanity and, thus, forsakes the essential and rigorous effort of acknowledging undeniable cultural, ethnic and racial, and religious differences that divide humanity.
Through the lens of remembrance, dare we, repenting of each and both, forgive ourselves. In that forgiveness, may we, with unblinking honesty, affirm that we live in an always dangerous world. In this recognition, nonetheless, may we, with hearts of hope, strive to understand “the other,” and, with those same open eyes and open hearts, unfold our arms, unclench our fists, and open our hands to all others.
Illustration: Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, Claude Vignon (1593-1670)