Thursday, January 21, 2010


In my class this week, the kids are getting an intro to WWII and learning about persuasive writing. In preparation, and to give them some background, we're watching Forgiving Dr. Mengele. The story of a set of twins, the Kor sisters, who survived the Holocaust by letting Nazi doctors perform horrific medical experiments on their nine year old bodies while in Auschwitz. Much of the video is devoted to Eva Kor's journey of forgiveness of the nazis and specifically, Dr. Josef Mengele, who performed the experiments on her and her sister. Many of her fellow survivors were very vocally in opposition to her, even though she claimed to only speak for herself in her forgiveness. They said she had no right. How could she forgive such horrific acts of cruelty?

Eva said she had to forgive, otherwise she would feel like a victim for the rest of her life. But shouldn't they have to make reparations? Her opponents asked. Isn't forgiveness just another way to say what they did was okay? And Eva responded with something that we now know to be true and that both psychological and biological research have proven: forgiveness is about the forgiver-- not the offender. It's about learning and grieving and growing. It's not about passifying the perpetrator, it is an act of accepting and letting go. Eva says it is an act of personal freedom.

I've watched this video six times in two days now. And her forgiveness still seems unfathomable, and I understand why her opponents are so vehemently against her. Yet she stands firm in her forgiveness. A peace radiates from her, even on screen. And I think about my life. Is there anything I haven't forgiven? I think there is. It's sort of a blurry line for me.

I've always thought of myself as someone who doesn't hold grudges. In fact, I hate it when other people hold grudges. I do not like to be around angry people... or people who walk around with a black list all the time. I know that people are human and make very human mistakes and have a great capacity for change when they want to. But what do you do when the something you're still holding onto, the thing that still remains not quite completely 100% forgiven, isn't an actual person, but an ideology? I grew up under a certain fundamentalist ideology that literally robbed me of, well, me. Because of this, I was never allowed to be Ashly, plain and tall. My actions, my words, even my inner most thoughts were strictly regimented, and checked and checked over again for rightness or wrongness. Whether it was placed on me (and my family) by other people or by an ideology and way of life, the standards I was held to, and consequently held myself to, were harshly unrealistic-- and in fact, personally crippling. As I grew out of childhood into an adult no part of me was left unscathed. And somewhere around twenty-one years old, it was like a bomb went off inside. And bloody, torn, shredded pieces of the shell I called myself lay all around. And this was what I had left. Broken fragments of a person I didn't even know.

School, therapy, and an unending amount of soul searching helped me grow and somehow rebuild a life where previously there was none. At that point, my life was quite literally one big pile of ruins, and I was amazed when I learned I could actually make something out of it. And not only that, but help other people make something beautiful out of their ashes as well.

But to the subject of forgiveness-- I believe part of forgiveness is learning the lesson, growing, becoming stronger. That is part of the freedom. But is that all of it?

You know, I love the saying that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference. Because if you hate something, you are still very much emotionally connected to it. But once you move past that hate, once you move into acceptance, and grow and learn and become better, then you can move into indifference. Where you just really don't care that much anymore. You are no longer emotionally tied up.

I think of it the same way with forgiveness. And nine or ten years later, I'm still not quite to the indifference phase. I'm stuck somewhere in the middle. I don't hate. I don't carry a grudge. I don't have a vendetta. But I can't say I'm indifferent. And I don't know if I can ever be, quite honestly. I see the same ideology quite literally still enslaving people and crippling their spirits and not allowing them to be the beautiful, creative, loving, accepting, and empowered people that we all have the capacity to be. I see them living half lives. I see it isolating people from each other and in extreme cases even causing violence in the world, just because we, as people, sometimes think differently. And I don't know if I'll ever be indifferent about that.

And I don't know where that leaves me on my journey. But I'm willing to find out. It's not over yet.


tomorrowsmemoriesphotography said...

beautifully said. i echo it. i just found a whole new layer of things i have to forgive - and it's harder than i like to admit. *sigh*

Andrea C. said...

I can strangely relate on some level....not until I made a personal decision that was totally against everything I ever believed in did my eyes become opened. My ideologies are still very similar, but now I know that the world isn't so black and white as I always assumed it was, and that's not a bad thing.

Niksmom said...

Beautiful and profound. I stumbled here through a series of re-Tweets and links. No accidents.

Thanks for the hearty food for thought; I'll be cheing on this for a long while, I suspect.