Forgiveness and reconciliation

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(Host) It is the season of peace, and commentator Edith Hunter has been thinking about how peace may be achieved through forgiveness.

(Hunter) I have a friend who went through a terrible experience with the law. When it was over, and he had been largely vindicated, he began planning to sue those who had falsely accused him. He spent a good bit of time laying out the case, and deciding how much he would ask in damages to his reputation and to his family life.

And then, one day, he suddenly decided that instead of suing his opponents, he would forgive them.

He told me that it was as if a huge burden had been lifted from his shoulders. Instead of putting his family and himself through months of bitter litigation, months of being consumed by hatred, he put it all behind him. He said the decision wiped out all the anger inside of him. He felt reconciled with those who had harmed him. He was at peace with himself, his family, his world.

Martin Luther King wrote: “Before it is too late we must narrow the gaping chasm between our proclamations of peace and our deeds which precipitate and perpetuate war.”

In the opening prayer of the recent session of the Congress, the Senate chaplain prayed, “Help the members of this body sidestep the divisive power of contention and find common ground; make them exemplary models of reconciliation.” But, as one report put it, “inspite of the opening prayer, both the House and Senate have become hissing snake pits.”

When my friend told me his story about forgiveness and reconciliation, I felt that a candle had been lighted. It may be a tiny thing, one little candle, but it was a ray of light where there had been darkness.

It set me to thinking about other candles that I know are being lighted.

I am encouraged that in our state positive steps are being taken to deal with drug offenders in a special court that seeks to treat the addicted rather than to punish them.

I think of the Court Diversion program that handles first-time offenders in a way that helps them make amends for wrong steps taken, rather than tarring them with a criminal record.

I think of Dismas House that offers a sheltering and nurturing environment to men and women leaving prison. It gives them a place to stay, to get their bearings, to gradually take their place in a society that they have harmed, and that very often has harmed them as well.

On the larger scene, “The Truth and Reconiciliation Commission” in South Africa is serving to bring together those who were injured by the system of apartheid and those who inflicted injury. Instead of demanding its pound of flesh, the commission provides the victims the opportunity to tell their stories, and those who caused injury to ask for amnesty.

Would that our national government would take a few steps in this direction and light candles in the increasing darkness. We need to seek peace through reconciliation not retaliation.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center, Vermont.

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