There is a saying, “The English never remember, the Irish never forget.” The more sober truth is that everyone remembers and forgets selectively. Therein is a political problem that is well illustrated in Northern Ireland these days.
Recently my son and I read one of Roald Dahl’s fantastic stories for children—The BFG. Everyone knows, don’t they, that giants are terrible, bloodthirsty creatures? So when little Sophie is kidnapped by a giant in the middle of the night and carried far away to a land where giants live, naturally she is terrified. “He is getting ready to eat me, she tells herself.
They were no angels. Whatever else they did or didn’t do, or hoped to do, they hired strippers. Then prosecutor Mike Nifong charged them with rape, Duke University turned on the boys involved and the media feasted on what these white jocks gone wild had done.
Should there be a statute of limitations on youthful indiscretions? The question had me hooked, even though it was going to be discussed in one of my least favorite formats: a call-in talk radio show. I knew the conversation would give me a glimpse of popular culture’s sensibilities about forgiveness, accountability and the past.
Hardness of heart. Scripture uses this image to describe those who are impenetrably stubborn, those who are unwilling or unable to see God’s glory or to reorient their lives to God’s call and claims. But what causes hardness of heart? Is it always human sin, those things which we have done which ossify our hearts and rigidify our minds? Do tragic accidents sometimes harden us in ways that make it difficult, if not impossible, to remain open to transformation, to sustain a mental, emotional and moral agility?
The blood was barely dry on the floor of the West Nickel Mines School when Amish parents sent words of forgiveness to the family of the one who had slain their children. Forgiveness? Forgiveness so quickly for the heinous crime of killing five Amish schoolgirls? How could the Amish forgive such a thing so quickly? Was it a genuine gesture or just a gimmick?
A debate on absolution was stirred in England recently after an Anglican priest stepped down from her parish duties because she could not forgive those who carried out the July bombings on London’s transport system. The attacks resulted in the death of more than 50 people, including her daughter.
In the play A Thousand Clowns, by Herb Gardner, a character named Murray discovers that he can offer a simple apology to almost anyone—even a complete stranger—and he or she will forgive him. He stands on the corner of 51st and Lexington in New York City one day, telling those who walk by him, “I’m sorry,” and in almost every instance, he’s forgiven on the spot.
Only a few of the 365 days in each year are associated with extraordinary events, but for those who experienced the events, the dates arouse great emotion. For Koreans, August 15 commemorates the restoration of the country’s independence after a Japanese occupation of 36 years. June 25 marks the outbreak of the Korean War. And for those of us who live in the U.S., September 11 will always be the day America was attacked.