Forgiveness is a love letter that we write to ourselves. Step by painful step we encounter events in our lives that teach us how to mourn and make us realize the possibilities of our own self-worth. Without forgiveness there is no passage out of hell even as our tears fall like heavy sheets of rain that bring us in touch with the dark side of our emotions.
For the African American community, swallowing another bitter pill of sorrow that is the Charleston, South Carolina shootings isn’t easy. In the wake of the shootings that took the lives of nine individuals, with a tenth individual having survived, the families of the victims forgave the shooter.
The violent act of the shooter motivated the families to proceed with a different sense of passion and purpose. The families are battered and wounded from the shooter’s unthinkable act, but they are not so broken to want evil done to him in return. They simply want him to face the justice system.
During the shooter’s initial court hearing the families described their pain and anger, but also spoke of love. During the court proceedings the families showed the world that our greatest strengths lay within our wounds. They forgave the shooter for his act, which was grounded in hate. They advised him to repent for his sins and, like a verbal life jacket, they asked for God’s mercy on his soul.
This is what recycling one’s pain looks like; every goodbye in all its forms teaches and mirrors one’s inner beauty, strength and sensitivity to life’s circumstances.
President Barack Obama gave the eulogy at the funeral of one of the slain individuals and said in his speech, “The flag did not cause the murders and represents more than ancestral pride.” This was powerful in giving breath to how hate has overshadowed ancestral pride.
In his Facebook profile the shooter displayed the confederate flag and wore a black jacket adorned with two flags — one from apartheid-era South Africa, the other from White-ruled Rhodesia — which are symbols commonly associated with anti-Black racism and White supremacy.
As Americans try to process the killings, some call it a hate crime and some call it a home-grown act of terrorism. As family, friends, and strangers came to say their final goodbyes, the act brought on by the shooter leaves them with a choice to learn about themselves, about life and about the choices that one makes in life.
Forgiving the shooter doesn’t mean that the act was okay; it just means that you are giving yourself inner peace from your toxic emotions. To end on a note of healing and forgiveness this poem (author unknown) read at a eulogy almost 30 years ago is still present in its meaning:
After a while you learn the subtle difference between holding a hand, and changing a soul. And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning and company doesn’t mean security. And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts, and presents aren’t promises — and you began to accept your defeats with your head up and your eyes ahead with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child. And you learn to build all your roads on today, because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans, and futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
After a while you learn … that even sunshine burns if you bask too much. So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers. And you learn that you really can endure, that you really are strong, and you really do have worth.
And you learn.
And you learn.
With every good-bye you learn….
E. Ellis is a freelance writer that lives in Minneapolis.