I recently stumbled across a website for The Forgiveness Project, a collection of personal and true stories of forgiveness. I encourage you to visit the site and read some of the accounts recorded there. In a world filled with violence and hate, forgiveness must at times seem a fantasy. And yet the human capacity for forgiveness is strong. One story — that of Kelly Connor, which she has also detailed in a book — is a good example of the difficulty of forgiving others for perceived wrongs, but also the sometimes greater struggle in forgiving ourselves.
At age 17, while driving to work, Kelly was keeping her eye on another driver to ensure she could respond quickly in case he pulled out in front of her. Unfortunately, she was too late to notice the elderly woman who had started crossing at a pedestrian walkway. The woman, Margaret Healy, later died in hospital. Two weeks later, Kelly came home to find Margaret’s brother talking with her parents. His message was one of forgiveness: neither he nor his family blamed Kelly for what had happened.
In situations of loss, it is a common and understandable response to be angry at the person whom the bereaved perceives to have been responsible for the loss. I’ve heard of stories of anger and bitterness directed towards emergency room doctors who tried in earnest to save someone’s life but did not succeed. It’s an irrational but natural way of dealing with grief too great to bear. For Margaret’s brother to make the trip to attempt to set at ease the mind of the person who was directly — though unintentionally — responsible for his sister’s death demonstrates an incomparable generosity of spirit.
Kelly was not as able to forgive herself, and the impact on her family was profound. She feels that it led directly to her her parents’ marriage and her own marriage falling apart. She kept the accident a secret from friends and loved ones for years until she disclosed it to her 14-year-old daughter, whose acceptance was a message that Kelly needed to begin working on forgiving herself. She has made progress but notes that it is a constant challenge. In her own words: “What I forgive myself for today, I don’t know will apply tomorrow.”
Today, I am thankful for the human capacity for forgiveness and, conversely, for the challenges we face in forgiving ourselves. Cripping though guilt might be, that people feel it is proof that humanity is not quite so in the gutter as I am inclined from time to time to believe. And that we can come out at the other end of guilt and anger and forgive restores my faith in humanity even further.
Do you have a personal story of forgiveness? Please share it with me in the Comments.