After our last Second Sunday Soup and Salad Salon, I sat down immediately to write, and that’s as far as I got. I didn’t have the time to strike while the mind was hot. Too bad. Anyway, the subject was forgiveness, and most people prefer not to think about that.
That salon was two months ago. Maybe it’s good to see what remains of the discussion as time passes. Three comments come to mind. For Elsa the main consideration in forgiveness is whether or not she can be absolutely sure she wouldn’t have done the same thing in identical circumstances. I think one of the things wrong in our society is that too many people are so self-involved that empathy has disappeared. If we placed ourselves in others’ shoes, tried to figure out why our enemies act the way they do, we might be able to figure out what to do about it.
Empathy with the enemy may be a little much to ask of most people. Yet it brings me to the other two comments. Rose told about a friend who had been married to a brilliant young scientist working on his PHD. When he was walking home from the lab late one night, a gang of boys attacked and killed him. The widow forgave her husbands’ murderers and saw to their education, did everything she could to make sure that they would never kill again. Yvette told of listening sessions in which a group of women described how abuse had affected their lives. The abusers sat in the same room.
Forgiveness doesn’t absolve the perpetrator of responsibility. It does, however, allow us to avoid being devoured by anger, hate, and greed, to concentrate on common ground and finding solutions.
Rose and Yvette sent me Emails today elaborating on their comments. Before I post them, I’ll post the introduction our facilitator, Carolyn, sent everyone ahead of time:
“In this contentious and dangerous world, do we need a dose of forgiveness, empathy and civility? Many religions offer forgiveness as an answer to our problems. Why is forgiveness so difficult? Do we fear that if we forgive an enemy we are selling out, showing weakness or giving in? Desmond Tutu says that we should pray to forgive our enemies, (and if that does not work,) pray to want to forgive our enemies, (and if that does not work,) pray to want to want ... . I recently saw a program NOW where evangelical Christians traveled to Alaska with scientists. Ordinarily they are on opposite sides of many issues, but they decided to try to listen to and understand each other at least on one issue, the environment and global warming. It worked. They were forgiving, empathetic and civil. They were able to find common ground. Could we use this example in other situations? On the other hand, are there times when we need to be stubborn?”
ROSE’S MESSAGE: This is such an important subject both in interpersonal and international relations.
I think the situation with the scientist was that the widow determined that the attack was a random one and was not directed at her husband particularly and so she was able to deal with it on the level that these were troubled youth who needed to find a better way to get their kicks!
One principle that I think is important is that the person to be forgiven needs to identify what the offense was and ask for forgiveness of the offended person. In my personal experience, I think this helps everyone not only the two involved but also those in the periphery who are affected by the conflict.
I am not sure if this was the way they handled it in South Africa during the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. Can someone enlighten me? Also, in Chile, the people who lost their loved ones have said to their offenders. "You must live with your shame. We can hold our heads up high and honor those we loved. "
YVETTE’S MESSAGE: As you know, forgiveness is a journey and it has been while since I felt compelled to touch this tender place. I have been fortunate to participate in the community restorative justice program as it was offered through the Alma Center (a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending violence and abuse in intimate relationships, families and the community) The Alma Center has a unique focus of peace education for abusive men.
My participation in restorative justice work, has altered and healed my soul each time, and in different ways. Allow me to explain:
A number of people are gathered from the community, certain people were invited because of their unique life experience. We all sat in a large circle, men who've been convicted of domestic violence and suffered from abuse, judges, former police officers, college students, social workers, counselors, mothers, sons, fathers and daughters. All were there for a reason. As we all sat facing each other, most of us strangers, we were guided by our facilitator to briefly introduce ourselves and how we came (were invited) to this circle.
It is a three day format. Each participant agreed to be present for 2 1/2 hours on Friday evening, 4 hours on Saturday morning, and 2 1/2 hours on Tuesday evening.
The facilitator explained that the circle we sit in and the format that we are about to follow is drawn from the Native American traditions. We will each have an opportunity to speak while others listen. Then she shows us a small hand held item and explains that this will be our 'talking stick'. The person who has it is free to speak and share his or her thoughts. Others just listen, not to comment or respond, just listen. When that person is finished, he passes the talking stick to his neighbor, who then may share his thoughts. Anyone who chooses not to speak is free to pass the talking stick to his neighbor. Silence is as acceptable as speaking.
The topic is violence. The question we are given to respond to is, how has violence touched your life.
I’m grateful to be sitting about 12 people away from the talking stick. I can listen and let the memories surface without judgment. I relax and listen. I am deeply moved by each persons sharing. There is even a gift in the silence. I find that the stories start deep and get deeper.
More to come...
MY MESSAGE: When Yvette sends me more, I’ll definitely post it!
Last Monday the grass was green where snow had melted, and the streets looked clear, except for the cloud of fog that hugged the East Side. I figured I should bike to Trader Joe’s while the snow and ice were water. As I put on my helmet, I had to admit I was afraid, of ice patches, of drivers on cell phones, of predicted thunder storms, of being too old to bike.
I pedaled along Maryland Avenue, avoided a friend who stepped off the curb without looking, too busy listening to his iPod, he said. Despite my loud pink jacket, I felt invisible, mists never more than a few feet away. The fog wasn’t pea soup, wrong color, more like vichyssoise without the leeks. I started to think of new blogs, wished I had a little tape recorder. Passers-by would think I’m on my cell phone. I smiled, relaxed, soon was coasting down Hampton, and I knew why I was biking. It’s more than a matter of getting to Trader Joe’s; it’s being out in the world, not enclosed, cruising through outdoor air.
I walked down the aisle, skipped the bulky produce, zeroed in on cereal, tofu, polenta, thinking that’s what’s cheap at Trader Joe’s, most health food I get at Outpost, better to shop there, shop local, calculating what would fit on my bike. Then a voice said, “Suzanne! How did you get here?”
“Oh, Ruth, hi! I biked.” “You certainly can’t carry everything on your bike. You’ll have to let me drive it back for you.”
I mention this not because Ruth drove my groceries home for me, though she did, but because she told me about her recent mammogram at Bayshore. She had asked her technician about the incidence of breast cancer in the area. The technician replied that it’s unusually high on the North Shore. I’ve heard that several times recently, haven’t read it anywhere.
The following day at the Fitness Center a friend told me that some of the young women who live near her have breast cancer, and one died, leaving behind two young children. Then she added, “So many of my neighbors use pesticides, I’m thinking of moving out of Shorewood.”
I guess some people are dying to have no dandelions.
Tonight’s Gallery Night, and we’re always in the same quandary: We want to stay at our own gallery, yet want to go to all the other exhibits. This evening Adolph and I will stay at Rosenblatt Gallery, 181 N. Broadway, with our work and with Davey Noble's work, which is in our north gallery. Here's his press release: “Hot on the heels of the world premier of the 'Super Noble Brothers' film release, Milwaukee artist DAVEY NOBLE is for the first time in 5 years unveiling some of his most enigmatic work for the eyes of his home city on Gallery Night, January 18, 2008 at the Rosenblatt Gallery in the Historic Third Ward. DAVEY, the youngest of the three Noble brothers, is known first for his incredible take on the human form and his uniquely individual persuasion of color and line. He is also known for his one-of-a-kind style and attitude that is classically Milwaukee. The public is warmly invited to come and view the most recent creations from one of this city's most up-and-coming artists, and to enjoy the company of a genuinely noble Milwaukeean.”
So we'll unfortunately miss the opening of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Relationships and Love, a show at Walker's Point Center for the Art, 911 W. National Ave, that includes work by Adolph, our son Eli, and me. There's a condensed version of the show on blogspot.
Sometimes we hate to say goodnight after French Table. We stand around chatting in front of Schwartz on Oakland at closing time. That’s what we were doing a few nights ago. Then brakes screeched, everyone gasped, I spun around in time to see the back of a car speeding down Jarvis, bouncing at every bump. It looked like a police chase, without the police.
“What happened?” I asked. It was dark across the street. All I could see were shadowy figures under the dim streetlight, and I could hear a yelping dog. “That car hit a dog,” Anne, who had younger eyes, said, “And it’s dying.” How could she see it was dying when I couldn’t see it at all?
A few minutes later I crossed over, checking traffic carefully. Jean-M was on his cell, talking with the police. Two women, each cuddling a small dog in her arms, stood crying. “Which dog was hit?” I asked Keith, who had run across immediately. He pointed to a third dog lying dead at one woman’s feet. “I checked, couldn’t feel any pulse,” he told me, “They’re taking him to the animal hospital anyway.”
About 27 years ago our son Joshua brought Happy to the animal hospital, put him on the table, and the vet exclaimed, “I can’t do anything for that dog, he’s dead,” with a tone that said, why are you bothering me with this? Perhaps he didn’t realize that pets are family members, and we don’t want to let go. Perhaps the speeding driver didn’t realize that either. Or perhaps he sped up when he heard the thud, to make sure he’d never know whether he’d hit man or beast. Or perhaps he didn’t know he’d hit anything, just another bump in the road.