I lost contact with a friend whom I want to forgive. Must I communicate directly with her for my forgiveness to be true forgiveness?
No, you do not have to go directly to your friend to say that you have forgiven. Forgiveness starts in the heart, as a change from resentment to empathy and compassion. You even can do a behavioral gesture of goodness in an indirect way toward your friend. As an example, you can donate some money to a charity in her name. This gesture of goodwill is a behavioral part of forgiveness.
For additional information, see What is Forgiveness?
Eva Mozes Kor (January 31, 1934 – July 4, 2019) is one of my heroes. This is the case because of her unrelenting message that she, personally, and not representing any group, forgave the Nazis for their abuse of her twin sister, Miriam, and herself while they were imprisoned in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland during World War II.
Their experience was horrific. Both were injected with a poison, which eventually took Miriam’s life and left Eva almost deceased in the camp. Yet, Eva’s will to live dominated and not only did she survive but also, later, she donated a kidney to Miriam in the hope of aiding her survival. When Miriam passed, there was not sufficient time for Eva to get from her home in the United States to the Israeli funeral, thus adding one more incident which could have embittered her. Instead, she lived a life of love, sacrifice, and forgiveness.
What I find so intriguing about Eva’s exemplary life is her steadfastness when it came to forgiving the Nazis. She had ample opportunities to back off from such a gesture because of heavy criticism from others. Mengele did not apologize; you cannot forgive on behalf of others (which she did not); to forgive such a horror is improper. While it is true that many have their convicted reasons why they, personally, would not forgive in this context, Eva realized that hers was a private decision that she willingly chose.
The forgiving worked well for her. As one example, in the film, “Forgiving Dr. Mengele,” she is shown, in her elderly years, running robustly on a treadmill in a gym. A crushed heart with no hope does not lend itself to such strenuous exercise. In another segment, she is seen comforting a teenager who was shouldering deep pain. Eva was the comforter, showing a motherly love to this teenage whom she was meeting for the first time. Her love was brighter than all of the atrocities perpetrated against her.
“Forgiveness is a way of healing oneself from pain, trauma, and tragedy.
It is a means of self-liberation and self-empowerment.”
Eva Mozes Kor
I know of Eva’s strong and loving attributes from personal experience, having had the honor of sharing air time with her on the radio and having met her and her strong son, Alex, for a dinner engagement.
Eva found a freedom, an independence from what could have been a lifelong hatred. The freedom won. It, thus, is fitting that this immigrant to America passed away on Independence Day in the United States, when the new nation shed oppression in 1776. Eva, having known oppression, rose to her Independence through forgiveness.
May your forgiveness live on, Eva. Thank you for a life lived with integrity, steadfastness, and forgiveness.
Read more about and by Eva Mozes Kor:
- “My Forgiveness” – A guest blog Eva wrote for this website last year.
- “Let’s Heal the World Through Forgiveness” – Eva talks about forgiving Joseph Mengele, the infamous “Angel of Death of Auschwitz” who tortured her and her twin sister.
- “Forgiveness Brings Peace” – Eva discusses a new film (“Eva”) about her life.
- History of the Holocaust – Learn more about the systematic state-sponsored killing of six million Jewish men, women, and children and millions of others by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II.
- “I Survived The Holocaust Twin Experiments” – Eva discusses the horrors she and her family endured during the Holocaust (a 14:47 video by BuzzFeedVideo on YouTube with actual concentration camp footage).
- “Nothing Good Ever Comes From Anger” – Eva talks about meeting former Nazi prison guard Oskar Groening during his trial in 2015.
You emphasize, in the early part of the forgiveness process, trying to understand the offender. Doesn’t this just open us up to excusing the other? After all, if we understand the other, we might develop sympathy for that person and so conclude: “Oh, this person is ok. I will just let it go and move on.”
Understanding the one who offended is very different from excusing the person’s behavior. We can accept a person as having unconditional worth and then hold fast to the truth that the behavior was wrong, is wrong, and always will be wrong despite my understanding the person as a person. In other words, it is important to separate the person and the unjust actions. We try to welcome the person back into the human community as we forgive; we do not then accept the behavior.
For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.
Ernest Hemingway once wrote a short story called “The Capital of the World.” In it, he told the story of a father and his teenage son who were estranged from one another. The son’s name was Paco. He had wronged his father. As a result, in his shame, he had run away from home.
In the story, the father searched all over Spain for Paco, but still, he could not find the boy. Finally, in the city of Madrid, in a last desperate attempt to find his son, the father placed an ad in the daily newspaper. The ad read: “PACO, MEET ME AT THE HOTEL MONTANA. NOON TUESDAY. ALL IS FORGIVEN. PAPA.”
The father in Hemingway’s story prayed that the boy would see the ad; and then maybe, just maybe, he would come to the Hotel Montana. On Tuesday, at noon, the father arrived at the hotel. When he did, he could not believe his eyes.
An entire squadron of police officers had been called out in an attempt to keep order among eight hundred young boys. It turned out that each one of them was named Paco. And each one of them had come to meet his respective father and find forgiveness in front of the Hotel Montana.
Eight hundred boys named Paco had read the ad in the newspaper and had hoped it was for them. Eight hundred Pacos had come to receive the forgiveness they so desperately desired.
Editor’s Note: This blog was written by Darlene J. Harris and is reposted from her website And He Restoreth My Soul Project. Harris is a sought-after speaker and author, and the developer/leader of workshops and retreats for women. She writes primarily on the topics of sexual abuse and molestation. Visit her site.
Who is Ernest Hemingway?
Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961) is seen as one of the great American 20th century novelists, and is known for works like A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Born in Cicero, Illinois, Hemingway served in World War I as an ambulance driver for the Italian Army where he earned the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery. He served as a correspondent during World War II and covered many of the war’s key moments including the D-Day Landing. In 1953, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Old Man and the Sea and a year later won the Nobel Prize in Literature. (Biography.com website.)
I was hurt by a stranger and so I have no clue about his past. How can I do the thinking work of forgiveness toward this person, given that I know nothing about him?
We talk about taking the personal, the global, and the cosmic perspectives when trying to understand and forgive another person. The personal perspective, which you find difficult to take, asks the forgiver to examine the past of the offending person and to see if this person suffered injustices and emotional wounds from others. Because you cannot know these issues, you can move to the global and cosmic perspectives. I will share only the global perspective for you here. If you find it helpful, then you might want to go more deeply and consider the cosmic perspective, depending on your belief system.
In the global perspective, we ask people to see the common humanity between yourself as forgiver and the one who offended you. Here are some questions centered on the global perspective: Do you share a common humanity with the one who hurt you? Do you both have unique DNA in that, when both of you die, there never will be another human being exactly like you on this planet? Does this make you special, unique, and irreplaceable? Does this make the one who hurt you special, unique, and irreplaceable? Will that person die some day? Will you die some day? You share that as part of your common humanity. Do you need sufficient rest and nutrition to stay healthy? Does the one who hurt you need the same? Do you see your common humanity? In all likelihood, even though you cannot know for sure, that person has been treated unfairly in the past by others. You very well may share the fact that both of you carry wounds in your heart.
For more information, see Forgiveness Defined.