Realizing the Power of Forgiveness

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

An article in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times caught my eye. The piece, titled “Members of Kenyan Tribes Work Toward Reconciliation,” says that each Saturday, a few dozen Kenyans get together to forgive and ask to be forgiven:

“These traumatized victims of Kenya’s post-election clashes meet to talk, pray, sing and – they hope  – heal. More than half a dozen tribes are represented, including ones that attacked one another in the weeks after the disputed December 2007 presidential voting ignited long-simmering ethnic tensions. More than 1,000 Kenyans died in the clash.”

I found it so refreshing to learn that Kenyans are using the power of forgiveness to help heal. The article reminded me of a conversation I had last week with a Dominican priest I knew from my alma mater, Providence College. We talked about forgiveness and how it has played out during some of the world’s tragedies and in people’s day-to-day lives. Our conversation made me realize that sometimes simply believing in the idea of forgiveness can lead to a deeper understanding of forgiveness as a remedy for emotional pain, as a kind of grace that helps us to heal from the wounds of the past.

The priest I spoke with mentioned the book “Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcends Tragedy,” which talks about the shootings at Amish schools on Oct. 2, 2006. That same day, the Amish forgave the gunman, who killed five girls, critically wounded others and then shot himself. People wondered how the Amish could forgive someone so quickly after what seemed like an unpardonable tragedy. I plan to read the book to learn more about why they forgave the gunman.

It seems as though the Amish and Kenyans could teach people a lot about what it means to genuinely forgive an enemy, avoid vengeance and, during troubling times, find grace.