Archive for August, 2014
Forgiveness: A Personal Reflection on the Boston Marathon Attack of 2013
April 15, 2013, 3:00 PM: the Boston Marathon was changed forever. So were the lives of many people.
I was a nurse in Medical Tent A taking someone’s blood pressure when the first bomb went off. I thought there was something wrong with her blood pressure because I had never heard such a sound through my stethoscope before. I took my stethoscope out of my ears and then the second bomb went off. Our medical tent was there to provide first aid to runners needing help after running the 26.2 miles. Our usual complaints were exhaustion, nausea, dizziness, and weakness. In the space of just a few minutes we went from sophisticated first aid to trauma. We had to shuffle everything. Runners who could be discharged were escorted out. Runners who needed more attention were moved to another area in the tent. We were quickly told that patients were coming in with traumatic injuries because two bombs had exploded across the street from our tent.
Suddenly our patients were missing legs, hands, feet, had shrapnel wounds, bloody ears, carnage was everywhere. People were coming in dazed and covered with smoke debris. I had a couple of nurses turn to me and ask, how do we do this? I told them we have our supplies, we will use our knowledge and we will take care of the patients with whatever skills we can muster. We just needed to get them stabilized so they could be transported to area hospitals. At one point I threw my hands up in the air and asked if anyone wanted to pray. Several people came together and we started saying the Our Father. When I got to the part: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others, I found I couldn’t say those words. Instead I asked St. Michael the Archangel to protect us from the wicked snares of the devil. Forgiveness was not an option at that moment.
My heart will always go out to the victims of that awful event. I know that there are people who are still getting surgeries trying to correct injuries suffered that day. We treated over 250 people in just a couple of hours.
What I have learned reading Dr. Enright’s books on Forgiveness, is that it is never easy. Is there a difference when you have to learn to forgive someone who blew your leg off or when you have to forgive someone who has hurt you emotionally? Is one harder than the other?
In reading and appreciating the work of Dr. Enright I am learning that each situation is unique, but that the process of forgiving is universal.
On a personal note, I found that invoking St. Michael the Archangel, was part of the beginning of forgiveness. There is evil in the world. One of the first steps one must take on the forgiveness path is to acknowledge that one has been wronged. That evil action of inflicting incredible physical harm on innocent people was wrong and does deserve punishment. Our justice system will deal with the person accused.
Since reading about living “The Forgiving Life,” and trying to embrace it as I live with emotional hurts of my own, I am trying to follow the steps. I have become more aware of how many people have a need to forgive someone for something. As Dr. Enright writes, it is usually because of love being withdrawn. Does having someone withdraw love hurt less than someone losing a limb? Only someone who has lost a limb can answer that. I have not walked in those moccasins. I have had love withdrawn, physically and emotionally, and it is awful.
Reading Dr. Enright’s books has helped me start the path of living a forgiving life. Thank you, Dr. Enright. Please continue your most valuable work of teaching us that there is hope and that if we work on it, we can forgive others, but we must start with forgiving ourselves and acknowledging our own pain. Time will heal but so will following the right path.
Editor’s Note: The shoe graphic above is the May 2013 cover photo of Boston Magazine (Photo by Mitch Feinberg). Each pair of shoes pictured was actually worn by a Boston Marathon runner in that year’s event. The caption in the middle of the photo reads: “We Will Finish The Race.” You can read the heart-rending stories of those runners in the May 2013 Boston Magazine cover story.
It seems that forgiveness is very different for Jewish and Christian people. For example, Jewish people tend to want an apology before they forgive. Christian people tend to talk about unconditional forgiveness. Are these two approaches very different?
If one person requires an apology before forgiving and another person practices unconditional forgiving, this does not necessarily imply a large difference in their understanding of forgiveness. For Jewish and Christian people, forgiveness is an act of mercy toward a person or people who have acted unjustly toward the forgiver. In both monotheistic traditions, people see that all persons are made in the image and likeness of God. This insight makes forgiveness appropriate because even those who behave badly are made in that image.
Please keep in mind that some in the Jewish tradition practice unconditional forgiveness, as Joseph did when forgiving his brothers in the book of Genesis. Some Christians require an apology before they forgive. In terms of the essence of what forgiveness is, however, people from both traditions tend to share the understanding that to forgive is to practice love and mercy toward the wrongdoer.
5 Ways of Misunderstanding Forgiveness
There are many misconceptions about forgiveness. Here are 5 worth noting:
1. Forgiveness places the burden for healing on the one who was the victim. For example, if someone is assaulted and now is feeling depressed, the burden for healing falls on the one who was assaulted. Our answer: Of course the burden of healing rests with the one hurt. That is always the case whether the hurt is emotional (as in the case of depression) or physical (a broken leg, for example). When we have an injury of any kind, we should never rely on the one who injured us to somehow fix the consequences of our injury because too often the injurer is not concerned one way of the other with our healing.
2. Forgiveness foreswears punishment of the injurer and lets him or her off the hook. Our answer: Forgiveness and justice grow up together. When one forgives, one should seek justice. In the case of punishment, if the injurer broke the law, the injured one should not take the law into his/her own hands, but leave the punishment to a neutral, third party judge.
3. Forgiveness is morally suspect because one “lets go” of the other’s injustice. Our answer: Forgiveness is not a “letting go” of an offense but instead is a merciful overture to the one who had no mercy on the victim.
4. Forgiveness makes the one injured develop a victim-identity, in essence crippling his or her self-esteem. Our answer: Forgiveness helps one to thrive and rise above the injustice, thus helping the forgiver to shed the victim mentality.
5. Forgiveness is dangerous because it puts the injured one in harm’s way again as he or she reaches out to the injurer. Our answer: Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. To forgive is a moral virtue. To reconcile is a negotiation strategy of developing once again mutual trust. One can forgive without reconciling.