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.
An admired colleague of mine lost her child to kidnapping and murder when the child was just entering her teenage years. This event was so shocking, so vicious that it started to enter into the mother’s heart. She said that she would have gladly killed the man if she could and would have done so while she smiled. Yet, in time she realized that her entire being was being transformed by the effects of the resentment living within her….and she did not like at all who she was becoming.
The killer was about to take a second victim, the mother, as she emotionally degenerated because of the stress and monstrous nature of the act. She chose to forgive instead and her life took on great meaning. She became a conduit of good for her other children. She began to show them a new way, one based on goodness instead of the absence of goodness. The children were able to see this new way and to take that goodness into their own hearts. A life of meaning and purpose in service to others grew in the heart of the family.
The killer did not claim them as other victims and there was triumph. The mother came to realize that profound injustice can kill without even touching another–but it did not happen here. There is something so powerful about realizing that forgiveness helps us stand against the chaos of cruelty and triumph over it even when the grave injustice has had its way for a while. It no longer continues to have its way because the absence of good (the chaotic injustice) is met by goodness itself and goodness is the one that seems to win in the long run.
There are moments when the human body may be stripped of its physical skills, but the human spirit is not broken.
Here is the story of a lady who is a testament to that. The year was 1989 and 26-year-old Laura Chagnon was merely walking down a Boston street. She didn’t know that would be the day her life would take a 180 degree turn. She was the victim of a senseless assault by one or more people; the detectives never caught the individual(s).
More important was the result, one minute ambulatory, Laura was now quadriplegic, legally blind with a head injury. To this day, her short-term memory is not very good. She was in a coma for 5 weeks and came out of it feeling a sense of loss. Her legs were no longer her legs because now she could not walk. She could no longer use her hands.
Four years in physical rehabilitation facilities followed. Doctors told her parents that her cognitive ability was minimal and to save the aggravation and put her in an institution for the rest of her life. They refused, their unconditional love was stronger than the doctor’s advice. The doctors said Laura would be a vegetable, still her parents would not break.
In 1993, Laura returned to live at home with her parents. She had caregivers around the clock to be her eyes and hands. She would not let life be a pity party and wanted to be a productive member of society. Laura started to dictate sentences to her caregivers and the sentences evolved into poems. One poem after another, each day more poems. Now, her identity changed, she didn’t feel like a quadriplegic woman, she proudly said she was a poet. Laura’s poems were of very good quality and were printed in local newspapers. She told people she was some day going to be a published poet with her book of poetry to be shared with the world.
She had no malice for whomever assaulted her. Laura simply said, “I traded my legs for the opportunity to write poetry.”
Let’s fast forward to the present. Laura has written over 5,000 poems. The doctors would be astonished. She is a shining example of overcoming adversity and not ever doubting the human spirit. Oh, by the way, that crazy dream of hers, to become a published poet: Laura met a publisher in June of 2013. He read some of her poems and was amazed. He said, “Laura Chagnon deserves to be published.”
For more than 20 years, her poetry was basically a well kept secret. If you read her works, I think you would agree she can hold her own with any poet out there. Now anybody can be the judge of that. Her published book, “Never Touched A Pen” the inspiring poetry of Laura Chagnon can be ordered at www.civinmediarelations.com.
Why would anyone want to forgive when another has traumatized you? I would like to suggest a different perspective on trauma and forgiveness. It is not forgiveness itself that is creating the sense of fear or disgust or danger or moral evil. Instead, it is the grave emotional wounds which are leading to these thoughts and feelings about forgiveness. When people are wounded they naturally tend to duck for cover. When someone comes along with an outstretched hand and says, “Please come out, into the sunshine, and experience the warmth of healing,” it can be too much. We then blame the one with the outstretched hand or the warmth of the sun or anything else “out there” for our discomfort when all the while the discomfort is what is residing inside the person, not “out there.” And this reaction is all perfectly understandable, given the trauma.
If you experience a blown out a knee while working out, and it is gravely painful, is it not difficult to go to the physician? There you face all the sharp white-lights of the examining room, and the nurses scurrying about, and the statements about surgery and recovery and rehabilitation. It all seems to be too much. Yet, it is not the physician or the nurses or the thought of the scalpel or the rehab that is the ultimate cause of all the discomfort. That ultimate cause is the blown-out knee. Isn’t it the same with forgiveness? You have within you a deep wound, caused by others’ injustice, and now the challenge is to heal.
Forgiveness is one way to heal from the trauma which you did not deserve. Like the blown-out knee, the trauma needs healing. So, I urge you to separate in your mind the wound from forgiveness itself. My first challenge to you, then, is this: Is it forgiveness itself that is the basic problem or is it the wound and then all the thoughts of what you will have to do to participate in the healing of that wound? Forgiveness heals. Forgiveness does not further traumatize. To forgive is to know that you have been treated unjustly and despite the injustice, you make the decision to reduce your resentment toward the offending person and eventually work toward mercy for him or her. That mercy can take the form of kindness, respect, generosity, and even love. Do you want that in you life—kindness, respect, generosity, and love? Forgiveness can help strengthen these in your heart or even begin to have them grow all over again for you. – Excerpt from the book, The Forgiving Life, Chapter 2. Robert
Timing is amazing sometimes. We posted a blog essay yesterday (just below this one) on three reasons why quick forgiveness is not necessarily “phony forgiveness” and we then came across this story: “Parents no longer forgive shooter of teen.”
Apparently, parents of a slain youth retracted their forgiveness toward the man who shot him.
We would like to claim that their first overture of forgiveness seems very sincere based on the news story. We have to remember our second point in the earlier blog post: psychological defenses are sometimes strong when tragedy strikes. As they lessen, anger rises. Now the deep work of forgiveness might begin….in time. And one more point: Even a retraction of forgiveness is not necessarily a final word on the matter.