Archive for the ‘Gerda Weissmann Klein’ Tag

FORGIVENESS; FOREGO-NESS; CONTROL   10 comments

I’m back! I tried to stay in touch with you all while I was on vacation from this post, often with just a “like” to let you know I’m paying attention.

And now I have probably more to say than either of us would prefer, but I hope you’ll stay with me. As usual, my thoughts have been grinding away.

I just finished reading “All But My Life” by Gerda Weissmann Klein, the memoir of a young woman born in Poland in 1924 who endured and survived the brutality and slavery of the Nazi holocaust. Because she is such an excellent writer, one feels the abject misery and humiliation without her ever telling us what we should be feeling. Just the direct reporting of events is all that’s needed for a powerful reminder of the abomination of which “ordinary” people are capable. And an indicator of the stealth with which the reality of developing sadism creeps up on victims who have faith in the goodness and decency of humanity.

I read it on the heels of “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak, a fictional portrayal of the gradual involvement of “innocent” people in supporting the Nazi terror. It would be difficult, I believe, for one to read this without heightening the awareness of the ever-present threat of horror built on indifference.

These observations lead me to the quote from Pastor Martin Niemöller, who, an outspoken critic of Adolf Hitler, spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Both books I’ve mentioned remind me of the potential danger in avoiding awareness and confrontation. And both books offered much in the way of analysis of personal approaches to survival.

But my purpose here is more limited to the thoughts I’ve been having about forgiveness. The person who recommended Klein’s book to me suggested it was a story of forgiveness. But I realize something different – perhaps parallel to forgiveness –was going on. The author never focuses on her anger toward her tormentors, but rather on what she can do to survive. In other words, all her energy was directed toward staying alive.

I noticed that same phenomenon at the time of the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. When the parents of a murdered child were asked by an interviewer whether they would be able to forgive the shooter, their response was, basically, “We can’t spend our time focused on him. We have a family to care for. We need to find a way to go on, and maybe even heal.”

I think we need a new word, something like “forego-ness.” While the point of forgiveness is that it starts with blaming the offender and experiencing our anger, the two examples above demonstrate foregoing any attention to the wrongdoer. Control rested in the hands of those parents, and in the charge of author Klein. They simply bypassed the anger, the first step in forgiveness, and went directly to focusing on taking care of themselves.

I have regularly defined “forgiveness” as the decision not to punish an offender and the relief that follows. I think I should describe that relief more specifically as removing power from the offender and taking back control over one’s own life. If refusing to forgive is like locking oneself in a cell and handing the keys to the offender. Then the result of deciding not to punish is equivalent to taking the keys back.

As always, I know I have to point out this doesn’t mean one decides the offender shouldn’t pay a price, but rather that the forgiver’s life can move on without being controlled by concern for the one who caused the pain.

The metaphor for “forego-ness” would have no image of keys or cells. One simply doesn’t lock oneself in the cell in the first place.

I do hope I’ll get some comments on these ideas. And I hope the commenter will be you.

And there’s still When to Forgive and Forgiving One Page at a Time for your perusal if you choose.

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