Brody: To forgive is to be set free

After reading a book by my friend and mentor Dr. Leo Buscaglia, I felt led to write this column on forgiveness.

Some parts I lifted right off the pages because he said it better than I ever could.

Forgive. There is a wonderful aura surrounding the verb forgive.

Great warmth and strength it gives you. It is a word suggesting a letting go, a releasing, an action which has the power to sooth, heal, reunite and recreate.

I believe to forgive is incredibly difficult and painful but I have, in my life, been hurt and wronged. And, because of that, I know about wanting revenge.

Let me tell you about a man I knew in St. Louis. He was a crossing guard for the elementary school my children attended and somehow we became friends.

I learned he was a survivor of the Holocaust and had been forced to watch as his wife and two children were murdered. He was spared so he could do heavy manual work for the Nazis.

When I learned his story, we brought him into our family and loved him dearly.

The thing that amazed me was we found no bitterness in him, no anger in his soul.

He talked often about forgiveness, not that there was anything easy about it but that he found he could not continue his life after the war with a heart filled with revenge as he replayed how to kill those who brutally killed his family.

What he found was the killers weren’t suffering because of their actions. Rather, he was the one suffering and he had to resolve it so he turned to religion.

He found every religion has at its heart deep commitment to compassion and forgiveness. But he found whereas it was easy for the gods to forgive, it was difficult indeed for human beings.

God bless him, he somehow found the strength and humanity within to start a new life working with and helping children.

Forgiveness is a complicated process that involves our deepest empathy, humanity and wisdom.

We must realize hate, bitterness and vindictiveness are overpowering and they will deplete us.

To be free of that, we must reach the point of making the choice to forgive or not to forgive. Then we must realize to be forgiven and to forgive are synonymous.

In other words, if we expect to be forgiven when we do wrong, then aren’t we compelled to do the same? If we can’t forgive others, then we cannot expect others to forgive us.

Is that the way we want to live?

I will tell you a deeply personal story.

After my divorce, I began dating again in my 40s. One night, I went out with a man I knew from church. After dinner in a nice restaurant, we were driving home. Suddenly, he drove the car off the road into a wooded area.

Before I knew what was happening, he changed from the quiet kind man to an enraged stranger. He beat me and then raped me.

Afterwards, he drove me home and pushed me out of the car door and sped away.

I didn’t call the police immediately as I should have, but when he threatened my kids, it terrified me so I just went to bed telling no one.

Now, you talk about anger — I was consumed with anger, hatred, fear and depression.

When I went back to work, I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t tell my children and I didn’t tell my friends. Finally, I told God.

I told Him I couldn’t live like this. I was thinking all of this was going to kill me after all.

By the time I got the courage to report it to the police, he had died of a drug overdose. Did that make me feel better? No.

I still felt like a victim and wanted justice. I began to ask myself what satisfaction is there in causing another to suffer if our pain still remains. Wasn’t that ultimately what I wanted for myself to know revenge?

Guess what I discovered while learning how to forgive? We find that in the act of forgiving we are very likely to discover new depth in ourselves.

We learn when we refuse to engage in forgiving behavior, it is we who assume the useless weight of hate and pain and vengeance.

This can be never ending and it weighs upon us instead of the wrongdoer.

Love is the single greatest source of forgiveness.

In love we put the wrong in perspective and view the act apart from the person. After all the wrong is already done, it is the past and cannot be changed.

We have only the present and future in which to move forward.

I was hurt physically but I learned the emotional and psychological pain are even more hurtful.

Few of us will escape these pains in our lifetime. It cannot be avoided. It can only be dealt with. Forgiveness is often the only out.

It is a freeing of self from the past and facing the future wiser.

Forgiveness is often called an unconditional gift of love. This implies not that, “I will forgive you if or when,” but, “I will forgive you because I must if I ever hope to continue to live fully.”

Jesus of Nazareth was the model of forgiveness. He forgave the prostitutes, the evildoers,the betrayal by his own disciples and, ultimately, even those who put him to death.

True forgiveness is an act of the highest human behavior.

So, let go. Stop clinging to pain.

We cannot fix the wrongs of yesterday and it is not ours to judge.

It is the forgiver who is freed in forgiving. Leave judgment and revenge to heaven.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

The view from the mountain is wondrous.

Jean Brody is a passionate animal lover and mother. She previously lived in Winchester, but now resides in Littleton, Colorado. Her column has appeared in the Sun for more than 25 years.