I was thinking about Healing the other day when I happened to watch a documentary that spoke to me on the deepest level. It evoked all sorts of reactions in me and showed me one possible path towards healing when we have been wronged.
The Documentary was about Eva Moses Kor. She and her twin sister Miriam were selected for a series of horrifying experiments performed by Dr. Josef Mengele at Auschwitz.
Most of you know that Dr. Mengele performed a series of useless and terrifying experiments on Twins. I say useless, because nothing whatsoever of scientific value came out of them. The experiments themselves were unbelievably horrific.
Of the over 3000 twins he experimented on, only 26 sets were still alive when Auschwitz was liberated.
Eva and her twin, Miriam, 10 years old, were among the survivors.
As Eva says in the documentary
“Just to be free of the Nazis, did not remove the pain they had inflicted on me. There might be another way that survivors can heal themselves. I have found one way, and that is to forgive your worst enemy. It will heal your soul and it will set you free.”
She chose to forgive Dr. Mengele. Indeed, the name of the Documentary is “Forgiving Dr. Mengele.”
I have to stop here and tell you that I am not sure I could ever be that strong. No one has ever done anything to me such as she and her sister suffered at the hands of Dr. Mengele. But I have had my sorrows, too.
There is one person in my life that I still have trouble forgiving, even though it has been over 40 years ago. I am trying to forgive, but it is hard. Yet Eva can forgive Dr. Mengele.
Not all her fellow survivors agree with her. In fact, few do.
And I can understand that very well. I have yet to forgive General George Armstrong Custer for what he did to my people. President Jackson and his ‘trail of tears’ is a dirty word in my household. And I was not even alive when those events happened. I was not a witness to their transgressions. I was not personally a victim of their criminal activities.
Holocaust survivors were. They were directly and personally affected. They saw their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers shot down, gassed, and otherwise brutalized. I cannot even imagine such things, what they would do to my soul.
Yet Eva, the twin, found the strength to forgive. When she did forgive, she realized that she had power as an individual. It set her free from the pain. It was a life-changing experience. To be free of that pain.
Eva says: "To triumph over the pain of the past, forgive. It is Healing, not just forgiveness. Getting even has never helped heal a single person.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with the perpetrator, it only has to do with the victim taking back the power of their lives.”
I wrestle with what she is saying. This is how I understand it:
If we carry a grudge, If we cannot forgive, then in effect, we are victims. Someone else has power over us.
We have no need to forgive someone who has no power over us, because they have no power over us. What they do or did does not matter. It is only those who can affect us in some way that we need to be wary of.
An interesting idea.
I began these two posts by talking about healing, especially healing from when you have been wronged in some way, and yet now the subject is Forgiveness. Why? I think the two are often related.
Can you have inner peace, healing, when you carry bitterness with you? I cannot.
Earlier I spoke of the one person I have trouble forgiving. She is long dead now. My anger does not hurt her. It only hurts me. It cuts up my peace, not hers. If I want to be healed of that situation of long ago, I must forgive her. But it is hard to do that. She wronged me! I had done nothing to her, yet the pain she inflicted followed me and affected my life for the next 40+ years.
It doesn’t matter. If I cannot forgive her, it may well damage the rest of my life as well, and I do not want to do that. Forgiveness does not mean that I condone what she did. It does not mean I excuse her or her actions. It does not mean that she should not have been held accountable. It does mean that I must leave her to her fate and walk away.
Now, I have to admit, after 40 years, I do not think about it every day. In fact, I seldom think about it. Coupla times of year maybe. But still, when I do think about it, there is a knot of pain inside me. It is still there, alive and well, for as long as I choose to nurture it. In my better moments, I can be magnanimous and forgive her, understanding where she came from. But I haven’t really forgiven her, because the resentment, the bitterness is still there. It’s getting smaller, but it still lives.
I think back to what I learned at the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross foundation, that the Five stages of Grief are: Denial, Sorrow, Anger, Bargaining, Acceptance.
Grief. I have known grief, as have each of you. And I have decided that I do not want to get stuck in an endless cycle of Denial, Sorrow, Anger, Bargaining and Fear. I want to break the cycle.
I want health. I want to be healed. I want to be whole. I want that inner peace. I do not want to carry around bitterness as my companion. So, as often as I possibly can, I must choose to forgive, to let go of resentments, even when it is damned difficult. I want to be healed, and I am the only person that can do it.
And as for the times that I find the burdens to heavy to put down, I pray that I find the strength to let go of what I can, to forgive what I can. I must love myself enough to heal.
I must recognize my own power and set myself free.