It started one Good Friday morning, three years ago, sitting, as we sometimes do on a weekend, in bed, with a cup of tea, reading, reviewing, talking, relaxing.
Because the finances are my responsibility, unusually, I used this moment to run through the ‘state of the nation’. We then fell to looking ahead to our imminent retirement and the likely income from our pensions, such as they would be.
Every time we fell to talking about pensions, I was irresistibly drawn to musing about the first of my four different private pensions, which exist by virtue of changing employers. This pension was with the steel company, for whom I worked for the first eleven years of my career, which was ‘frozen’ upon its merger with another company. The process of reviewing whether to leave my original pension frozen or move it into a private fund was aided by a ‘friend’ who worked with a mutual insurance company at the time. Given that this was in the midst of the Thatcher era and the new market economy, ‘advice’ abounded that pensions should become more portable as the work force became more mobile and everyone was getting on Norman Tebbit‘s proverbial bike!
Long story short, the outcome was that I chose to move it to the private pension recommended by my ‘friend’ and the fund ended up being worth one third of what it would be had I left it where it was. So it was too late to make up the loss.
Whether or not I forgive my ‘friend’ for whatever responsibility he could himself reasonably shoulder for this advice, was rendered irrelevant by my next prompt, which occurred whilst I ate my breakfast and watched the second half of an hour-long documentary on BBC1, “What’s The Point of Forgiveness?”, presented by Historian, Bettany Hughes. It took a look at the history of this virtue, which emanates from the apocryphal words of Jesus, “forgive them, they know not what they do…”. In her thesis Hughes presents the alternative to forgiveness as being the vicious cycle of revenge, which inhibits recovery, engenders pain and does not allow us to move on.
Two significant events that I saw, cited in this programme, were the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission‘ setup up in South Africa, following the release of Nelson Mandela and his election as president, and an interview with the wife of the co-pilot of Flight Eleven, which was deliberately flown into one of the Twin Towers in New York in 2001, who, in spite of her emotional struggle to come to terms with the loss of her husband and father to her two children, had somehow found it in her to forgive the terrorists. Both these events stand out in a way that gives us hope for humanity and human spirit. Whilst we can all understandably feel vengeful and hateful against those who harm us or our families, our tribes, our communities, it is only by forgiveness and by not antagonising the perpetrators of atrocities against humanity into a vicious cycle of destructive and vengeful argument that they may become capable of contrition and able to feel remorse. People who have achieved genuine forgiveness, like those already mentioned, accordingly become living proof that genuine forgiveness is the only road to reconciliation and peace.
So, how can I complain when I am able, as I did at the time of writing this, to sit in our sun-bathed garden, ringing with bird song, cup of coffee in hand, in good health and with the freedom to write what I want to say on almost any subject in this blog, here, now, any time it pleases me to do so. How can I feel vengeful toward someone about a pension shortfall, when there are people in the world, who can forgive acts of inhumanity that defy belief; that have caused the loss of life, the torture of innocent people, the deprivation of the most basic of human rights affecting whole communities, populations… there is truly no need to answer this question. One question does, however, remain.
That question is simply this: how can I, in spite of all the good fortune I have had in my life, in spite of the fact I am no longer an angry young man – for which there may have been a little justification early in my life – and in spite of the fact that the sun is shining; how can I follow this advice and ensure that, deep down, I can genuinely forgive anyone, who is guilty of anything, whether it be a simple thoughtless slander or the most unspeakable inhumanity. I feel this is the question I should continually ask myself and strive to achieve the only result that common sense points toward with undoubted clarity. It is so obvious to me that to forgive someone is to take the wind out of their angry or irrational sail; make it pointless for them to consider acting in such a way again, rather like a petulant child who, in moments of insecurity, challenges their parents by pushing at the boundaries, trying to get a reaction; when they don’t get it and the parents show forgiving, but calm and disciplined resolve, they gradually adjust their behaviour. It has to be said, nonetheless, that if it were the easy option, we’d all be able to forgive.
It should be easy for me in my relatively privileged social and economic circumstances, but how much more difficult is it for someone who is wired differently from me; who is younger and is just setting out on life’s difficult journey trying to survive; who may even have more justification for their anger or who is simply wired in an ‘angry’ sort of way. I don’t know the answer to this, but, whatever happens, if the message of Easter is to mean anything, whether or not you are, unlike me, an active Christian, then we ought to keep on trying… to be grateful for good fortune, to forgive and move on. What better cause is there to encourage harmony whenever and wherever in the world we can.
[A longer version of this article was first published on John’s prose blog, ‘Forty Two’ in April 2011.]
Photo and Text © 2014 John Anstie
JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British poet and writer, a contributing editor here at Bardo, and multi-talented gentleman self-described as a “Family man, Grandfather, Occasional Musician, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer. John participates in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union. He’s been blogging since the beginning of 2011. John is also an active member of The Poetry Society (UK).
John has been involved in the recent publication of two anthologies that are the result of online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group, for which he produced and edited their anthology, “Petrichor* Rising“. The other group is d’Verse Poet Pub, in which John’s poetry also appears The d’Verse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.
* Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.
8 thoughts on “Good Friday, Good Fortune and Forgiveness”
This is a pluperfect post for this day and season, John, the most important in Christian theology and the most important for its general message, which you have captured well with all its shades and nuances. Bravo! and Thank you!
Sometimes I wonder – in terms of both the microcosm of our small individual worlds and the macrocosm of large social groups – if the reason we sometimes have difficulty letting go of blame, fear and anger and embracing understanding, love and forgiveness is because we identify with our anger, with the real and perceived injustices at the hands of others. Our anger and resentment become part of our identity and we are as loath to let them go as we are to let go of life, sometimes more so. (This is the problem with identity politics.) Sadly we see this issue with mature adults who still carry the burden of resentment toward their parents, though their parents are long gone and they themselves are old enough now to know that we (even as parents) are all imperfect, all works of art in process.
At any rate, this is a fine piece for any day and quintessently John, by which I mean thought-provoking, well-considered and delightful to read. Rest easy in the spirit of Easter, whether secularly celebrated or spiritually so.
I see that in any situation, we have at least three options: run away/hide, change the situation, change yourself. Forgiveness, I think, is not so much about creating an opportunity for the other to be remorseful and change, but about creating an opportunity to change ourselves…regardless of the other’s response. Turning from anger to compassion is our opportunity. (and n.b., the Twin Towers fell in 2001, not 2011 – that’s a typo)
John, this is such a good reflection for today. I’m experiencing a similar yet different situation related to retirement funds, one which calls for forgiveness, too. It’s not the easiest of responses, is it and yet look what we deal with next to Jesus’ example. And that of so many others. It is indeed a matter of perspective.
Yes, Priscilla, you’re spot on. We need to change ourselves first. And yes, I thought I’d corrected the 2011 typo ages ago, but hey ho, brain’s in a groove.
I try to keep a sense of perspective too, Victoria, but, as you say, it’s not always that easy. Thank you for your comment.
And Jamie, thanks for yours too; such a long and thought provoking response. Yes, if there’s a lesson for this Easter, it is to learn how to convert anger into compassion. Recognising that “blame, fear and anger” to which you refer, is the key to it all and recognises what I read that the Dalai Lama quoted about agitation being the cause of all human unrest, from arguments to wars. (that I cannot find for the moment). For now his quote: “The true hero is one who conquers his own anger and hatred.” will suffice. It comes from insecurity, I suppose.
Happy East to you and to all here at the Bardo.
What a nice post, John. You make some good points and I think forgiveness is one of the hardest things for a person to do. I believe it’s one of those life lessons that a person has to practice again and again, to keep trying, because you’re right, it certainly isn’t easy. Luckily (?), life gives us plenty of opportunities to practice the art until we get it right. Thank you for the timely reminder. 🙂
Corina, referring to it as a ‘life lesson’ is inspired, because it is just that! At least, either a life lesson or a life skill, which, like muscles in our bodies, need to be regularly exercised to hone them and reinforce them. Thank you for your comment.
Forgiveness is a big subject, and one over which, we will debate whether anger has its uses. I think anger does have its uses. I think it is spirit expressing itself ~ anger gets a bad rap, because of the way in which it is expressed and misused. But it is imbued with the power that creates change ~ as long as it is channelled creatively and productively.
Not sure I agree entirely, Niamh. By its very nature, anger is an irrational emotion and will polarise rather than enable reconciliation. There are circumstances where the expression of anger can surprise and shock another into understanding, but, I suspect these are rare.