Forgiveness – ah, divine art –
is never took to stage.
To see our self as others do
is sure to just enrage.
Why don’t they simply always know
we meant to silent stay
and not to call them ghastly names
and trash their happy days?
– Charles Brady
I’ve never really been a good “forgiver.” Although I have usually TRIED to be understanding and tried to listen and to withhold judgment, there have been one or two times when I have allowed myself to feed upon wrongs – sometimes real yet sometimes perhaps not as dire as I thought at the time.
Over a long lifetime, I have managed to forget and forgive all such “wrongs,” but in one case, and for one person, I clutched my indignation perhaps too long. Forgiveness took a long time, but later in this narrative, I will tell you of the person who was the subject of my anger and try to explain why it took so long to forgive. However, I DID forgive him.
The subject of forgiveness, and I don’t mean the “scuse me” we utter when we bump into someone, is complicated by the DEGREE of the real or perceived wrong and the ability of the person or persons wronged to deal internally with their mistreatment.
But the nature of some hurt and or humiliation is so great that I cannot see how any one or any group could ever forgive the damage. I will provide a few examples:
Born and reared in the deep, deep, South during the “Separate but equal” era, which was certainly separate but not always equal, I was aware of the status of the races and the numerous do’s and don’ts for behavior under the circumstances. I am not equipped to deal with the consideration of a need for forgiveness, problems beyond my pay grade, which are surely here, if it is ever going to be addressed in totality.
But there are other examples I can speak of.
How could the surviving Jews from Hitler’s time on earth ever forgive him and his followers? It is perhaps the ultimate evil inflicted upon human beings, although there have been several other such “programs” on a lesser scale. I know Armenian families today are fighting to get revealed the full extent of the major attempt to eliminate them.
Some Native Americans in Oklahoma today are proudly occupying their own lands, building their own homes with Native American builders, and occupying their own modern schools and hospitals. And, they are asserting their rights in other ways. For example, Tribes in the State have their own license plates and share in the income from registration of vehicles.
These Tribes have incomes from a hundred plus year old treaty forcing oil companies to pay for oil extracted from their land – land once deemed worthless and thus suitable for “Indian” resettlement following ‘The Trail of Tears.” Other income comes from the “Indian” Gambling casinos. Oklahoma tribes, initially turning to others to run these casinos, have taken more and more control.
Conversely, I have worked with and among three Native American Tribes/Pueblos. One group resides on its own tribal lands, but there is little immediate opportunity for the members. Another Tribe resides on its extensive reservations, but mostly at the near-poverty level. They have generations of problems with alcoholism and other health issues. Many see nothing for them outside the reservation.
How can Native Americans today, in the name of their ancestors, ever forgive the mistreatment – mistreatment documented in thousands of books and other records – at the hands of the late-arriving European invaders with their Bibles, Priests and soldiers? Many aspects of such treatment, either deliberate or from feelings of helplessness, continue as various Tribes fight for rights promised them.
There are other examples of mistreatment of groups and peoples for which apologies are warranted, and in some cases been asked for.
Early Chinese immigrants were not always welcomed, but when they were needed in large numbers to build our railroads, were accepted, only to be rejected when that task was completed. It took a long time for Chinese to become more fully integrated and apparently the descendants of those early settlers have forgiven but not forgotten.
And those of us old enough to remember the build up to war, and the years of World War II, remember the immediate round up and incarceration of American Citizens of Japanese birth. With short notice, they were forced leave their homes and businesses to be transported to one of the “Relocation Camps,” surrounded by wire fences and armed guards.
And even though the young Japanese American men were allowed out to join the US Military, where they performed heroically, their families were to remain in one of the camps until war’s end.
When they returned to their homes, many had to struggle to get back their property and many had no chance of getting their jobs back.
Yet, the Japanese Americans of the time accepted their fate and later appear to have forgiven the Government’s foolishness.
As I said earlier, I do not understand HOW horrible treatment at the hands of others can ever be truly forgiven, but I guess it is. I suspect that some who forgive do so with some lingering bitterness, and is that true “forgiveness.?
And back to an early promise:. I will speak of one act by a member of my own family – and done to me and others of my family, an act that was and remains particularly unimaginable to this day – that was hard to forgive.
In 1937, I had been temporarily “parked” by my teen-aged Mother with my grandparents on a tenant farm in Bulloch County, Georgia. With my grandparents and me (age 6), also residing were two aunts, ages 13 and 11, twin uncles, four months younger than I, and another uncle age 3. We were tenant farmers sustained on a farm, with two sturdy mules, a large house with barn, corncrib and lots of mule-drawn farm equipment. Before the event related below, all of us, age six and older, caught the school bus to Pulaski School each morning
Grandfather was also a carpenter who made a little extra money from his skills. We were in pretty good shape for the times (Depression) and situation.
One day, I heard loud discussions in the house and knew that most of he shouting was by my Grandfather – he was shouting that he was LEAVING HIS FAMILY RIGHT THEN! Gradually it sank in and each of us handled the results in our own way.
One day we were a family, farming for a landowner, with little or no money but a house and food, the next day we were not. I don’t know when it was that I realized the implications, but it was not long, and I felt the hatred that began soon and lasted through most of my lifetime.
I knew right away that I detested the man who would desert his family, including six small children, to scratch out their own living, the man who never afterwards did ONE THING for his family….not a dollar nor a meal nor an item of clothing. I found out later that he had “taken up” with a widow “down the road apiece.”
Years later, long after I had left Georgia for my own life, I heard that my Grandfather, abandoned by his later family, was in poor health and suffering from Dementia. As I knew she would, my Mother took him in and cared for him until his death.
In later discussions with my Mother, I confided that I could not find it possible to forgive him. She replied that I would someday forgive him and that I would feel better for doing it (My Mother would have taken in and fed Attila the Hun.) Recently, I have come to believe that I have forgiven him, despite the fact that he never earned that forgiveness.
(A PS is necessary. Although my forgiveness came late, I had already gotten a bit of revenge on my Grandfather, a truly mean man who had always merely tolerated me.
One day when I was five, I was told to take drinking water out to my Grandfather who was plowing far out in the big field.
I took off with the quart Mason jar of cold well water but soon spotted a dried cow plop and decided right there to get my revenge. I opened the jar and placed in it a tiny bit of that cow dropping. At first, I could see a few strands of straw, but soon extracted the most obvious, stirred it all up and went on.
After he had halted matching mules Maude and Millie and wiped his brown, Grandpa Driggers took two or three big gulps from the Mason jar as I stood, hoping he could not sense my jubilation.)
Forgiveness is necessary but revenge is sweet.
Before he drove off to Florida in his Model T Ford,
he was my grandfather who made split- shingle roofs
and dug wells with his bare hands and long-handled tools.
He would start morning fires then go out to tend the fields.
He would come when an uncle tolled the brass dinner bell
for dinner, or when stray mad dogs frothed in the yard.
He broke land and plowed deep with matched white mules
as uncles scored parallel rows of turned earth for planting.
Seed corn dropped through his fingers was perfectly placed.
But grandfather paused at the end of the row one eve
as the sun cooled and the day’s sweat crusted to salt,
and the night sounds came early to his anxious ear.
With the last rows of the garden grown full and green
and weeds cleared from wire fences along the town road,
he oiled and stowed his good steel plows in the tackle barn.
He boxed carpentry tools in the back of his old black Ford
and drove off alone for some life he held clear in his head.
From Florida he never again came to work the white mules.
I saw him next when he was old and small, being led
by the hand through woods walked strong in his youth.
My Mother brought him home to fires she kept burning,
but I would not listen to his Florida, nor help him bridge
to the time spent with us in his young plowing days,
because of Grandmother’s bonnet, and the gray of her eyes
as she rocked on the porch through a slow life built of nothing.
She moved herself just to the end of one dirt road and back,
and then to the cemetery for her only comfort through the years.
Now the fields once plowed with matched white mules are at rest,
and the greens of the past and deep wells dug, and shingles split
stretch out like maps to a Florida searched for and never found.
– Charles Brady
(“The Riceboro Poems, A Biography of Place”)