A forgiveness that's out of this world
By Michael M. Bates
The ability to forgive and forget has never been a strong suit of mine. It's been said with some justification that I suffer from Irish Alzheimer's: Forgetting everything but the grudges.
There are shrinks who maintain forgiveness is essential for one's emotional stability. They believe it infinitely preferable to obsessing over the past offenses, be they real or imagined, of other people. More importantly, forgiveness is mandated by Christianity. Jesus taught his followers to forgive. When Peter asked Him how many times he should excuse his brother, the answer was seventy times seven.
Pardoning others is also an element of religions other than Christianity. Yet rarely do we see as dramatic a display of that virtue as we did in the aftermath of the killing of little girls in a Pennsylvania Amish schoolhouse.
The murderer's widow was invited to the children's funerals. The Christian Science Monitor quoted an Amish woman: "It's our Christian love to show to her we have not any grudges against her."
A grandfather of one of the little girls visited the father of the killer in an effort to console him. When the perpetrator was buried, about half of those in attendance were Amish.
Donations for the victims, the hospitalized survivors and their families flooded in from around the country, and some even came from overseas. A woman familiar with the Amish's independent ways said that receiving those gifts isn't in keeping with their faith.
It was decided, however, that in this instance the contributions would be accepted because it might be un-Christian to deny folks wanting to help that opportunity. Moreover, the Amish are giving a quarter of the donations to the family of the murderer.
This capacity to separate the sinner from his heinous sins is incredible, at least to this simple mind. In pardoning the executioner of their little girls, the Amish are reflecting the bright light of God's love for humanity and His forgiveness for our transgressions. They're setting a powerful example.
Another illustration of a forgiving soul passed away earlier this month. John "Buck" O'Neil, the great Negro Leagues star and the first black coach in the major leagues, died at 94.
Mr. O'Neil had a fantastic career with the Kansas City Monarchs. Later, he helped put players like Lou Brock, Ernie Banks and Billy Williams on the national stage.
Buck became famous to new generations as the result of Ken Burns' documentary "Baseball." In his 80s, he was suddenly in demand more than ever.
Seeing him on TV was a delight. He had an infectious smile and was seemingly filled with an energetic optimism that belied his years.
Here was a man whose grandfather had been a slave. Buck O'Neil lived a good portion of his life in the era of Jim Crow and all of its injustices and indignities.
When he unaccountably wasn't elected to the Hall of Fame, he refused to dwell on the inequity of it all. He instead spoke of a couple of disappointments that were worse than not going into Cooperstown. Not being allowed to attend Sarasota High School or the University of Florida hurt him more, he said.
For all that he endured over the years, it would have been easy for Buck O'Neil to have been an embittered, unhappy man. To wallow in self-pity. But he chose forgiveness over resentment, hope over despair.
Last summer he represented 17 other Negro Leaguers who, unlike him, had been voted into to the Hall of Fame. In a speech, he touched on his philosophy of life:
"And I tell you what, they always said to me, ‘Buck, I know you hate people for what they did to you or what they did to your folks.' I said, ‘No, man, I - I never learned to hate.' I hate cancer. Cancer killed my mother. My wife died 10 years ago of cancer. I'm single, ladies. A good friend of mine - I hate AIDS. A good friend of mine died of AIDS three months ago. I hate AIDS. But I can't hate a human being because my God never made anything ugly. Now, you can be ugly if you wanna, boy, but God didn't make you that way. Uh, uh."
Buck O'Neil lived a life very different from that of the Pennsylvania Amish who lost their children so tragically. What they had in common, though, was an indomitable willingness to forgive. Most of us mere mortals can only aspire to that virtue. Especially those with Irish Alzheimer's.
This Michael M. Bates column appeared in the October 12, 2006 Reporter Newspapers.