Kids and Community: Forgiveness
By Judy Shepps Battle
It was poet Alexander Pope who observed: "To err is human, to forgive, divine."
In this light, the world has been gifted with a glimpse of divinity in the way the small Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, has responded to the senseless shooting of ten of their schoolchildren and the resulting death of at least five youngsters.
In the midst of unimaginable shock and grief, the community has placed forgiveness for gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV and compassion for his family on the front burner.
Immediately after the tragedy, NBC News reported a community member as saying, "Tell the world that we are grateful for its prayers, but also remember to pray for the gunman's family." A relative of one of the slain girls invited Marie Roberts, the gunman's wife, to attend the child's funeral as a way of showing that the community did not bear a grudge against her.
The community also has set up a college fund for Roberts' three children and expressed the heartfelt desire that his family stay in the area and continue to receive the friendship and support of their Amish neighbors.
How many of us can say that we as individuals -- or as a community -- would be able to muster such immediate forgiveness and compassion?
I know I couldn't.
It would take a lot of spiritual and psychological "working through" of my anger and resistance to forgiveness to get to the place that these Amish people naturally manifested.
Forgiveness promotes a healthy mind and a healthy body, but it also opens the door to spiritual development. And these are three qualities I value.
THE STRESS OF GRUDGE HOLDING
Research has shown that those who are able to forgive are physically and mentally healthier.
For example, the American Psychosomatic Society reported that heart patients completing a ten-week forgiveness training program had diminished physiological risks for a heart attack.
Similarly, the University of Michigan found that middle-aged and older people who are able to forgive are more satisfied with their lives and less likely to report symptoms of psychological distress, including feeling nervous, restless, or sadness.
These findings are not surprising. It takes a lot of energy to hold on to a grudge, and the rerunning of victimization "tapes" in our minds makes it impossible for new and positive people, places, and things to come into our lives.
The Amish way of avoiding getting stuck in such an unforgiving cycle appears to be grounded both in theology and environment.
THE AMISH WAY
I do not pretend to be an expert in the Amish way of life, so the following are just my observations of significant differences between Amish culture and "mainstream America" that promote the ability to forgive:
The Amish refuse to get caught up in the complications of modern life with regard to technology-based conveniences, such as automobiles, and television, video games, and computers. This simpler life results in less environmental noise, allows time for family and community interaction, and filters out the images of violence and retaliation that bombard adults and children of mainstream American society.
This less-complex life is what allows the nourishing of spiritual values to thrive. And one of these spiritual principles is that a person's life -- and death -- is divinely guided.
As one Nickel Mines Amish woman stated to a reporter: "My mom and dad taught me -- and now we teach our children the same -- to forgive people if they hurt us. Things are going to happen in life. We're going to get hurtbut we have to forgive.If we give it to God, he'll take it and make something good out of it."
It is fitting that the blood-spattered West Nickel Mines School -- the one-room schoolhouse where this violent event occurred -- has been demolished. The Amish plan to leave a quiet pasture in its place.
Such a memorial is consistent with the compassion, love, and quiet dignity that has characterized this tragedy.
The best way I can honor this noble spirit is to dedicate myself to cultivating forgiveness in my own heart and to encourage others to also do so.
It is not an easy task to stop labeling individuals, racial/ethnic groups, and nations as "good" or "bad," "friend" or "foe." And it is far harder to give up immediate retaliation for real or imagined affronts that assault our sensibilities.
But, as our Amish friends are teaching us, making such an effort allows us to truly experience the Divine. And such an experience is sorely needed these days.
Judy Shepps Battle is a New Jersey resident, addictions specialist, consultant and freelance writer. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. Additional information on this and other topics can be found at her website at http://www.writeaction.com/.
Copyright 2006 Judy Shepps Battle