Friday, 25 June 2021

Forgiveness

 Various things this week - mostly to do with what I have read - have made me give some thought to the word 'Forgiveness' - what it actually means and how we view it.

What started me off is that I have run out of new books to read and so have turned to an old favourite which I have read many times.  It is the first of a trilogy by Patrick Leigh Fermor 'A Time of Gifts'.   He was an amazing man - an absolute pain at school but in later life a war hero (he won the DSO for leading an operation in Crete to kidnap a German General).   At eighteen he set off to walk from London to Constantinople as it was then called and this first book is about that adventure - he didn't write it until towards the end of his life - the third book being finished by his Literary Executors after his death.

So of course he lived through and fought in the Second World  and saw the devastation it caused, saw the rise and final defeat of Fascism and recalled in this book what things were like in the thirties, when Fascism was just coming to the fore but before the terrible things that happened both to people and to buildings.

Alongside this I have been watching Michael Portillo travelling through Germany and Austria by train and seeing the rebuilding of cities - the reconstruction of beautiful old buildings and communities.  There has been much food for thought.

Then in Wednesday's Times  Matthew Parris in his weekly Notebook wrote a paragraph headed 'Bomb Damage' in which he talks about The Bennerley Viaduct which The Kaiser tried to bomb from  Zeppelin in the First World War  (he missed).   He tells of a tour to see the viaduct a century later when the tour guide tells of this and of the shrapnel damage caused.   A German couple on the tour took it all in good humour and as they were leaving they gave the guide twenty pounds telling him to accept the money as war reparations.   When the Guide asked where they were from they said Dresden.

A city absolutely flattened in the Second World War.   I was old enough to remember (I was 13 when the war finished) the bombing of Dresden and also of Hamburg.   Surrounded as we were in Lincolnshire by airfields hundreds of planes went over in the evening ontheir way to bomb Germany - already in retreat and obviously losing the war.  I could detect the rise in spirits of everyone as it became obvious that we were winning.

How do people forgive?  It is I think such an individual thing - some can, some never can.  My first husband was the youngest serving soldier to work as a prisoner on The Death Railway - he never forgave.   He talked about it rarely but would never buy a Japanese camera or a Japanese car and although we travelled to the Far East a few times on holiday he would never go to Japan.

The man who he believed had saved his life was an Army Chaplain called Paul Miller, who used to make him drink a glass of Communion wine every time they had any and who would find extra food for him and care for him when he was ill.   We visited him after the war when he was a Vicar for a time somewhere near Derby - to find that he had a Japanese Curate.

Forgiveness as I say is a personal thing - you can let the hatred linger on in the soul or you can start again.   But unless we have been individually involved, who are we to judge?

Leigh Fermor talked of the hospitality of German and Austrian families, of the tradition of always offering a bed to a stranger - many people he met in inns when he was eating his bread and cheese (he seemed to exist on that between the huge hospitality he experienced) would insist he went home with them for the night in a warm bed rather than in the barn he intended to sleep in - and insist he share their food.   These same people who would maybe less than ten years later would become our enemy.

Yes, forgiveness is a strange thing. It can eat at the soul or it can form the basis for a new beginning.  It has been good to read the book and see modern Germany and Austria through Michael Portillo's eyes.

35 comments:

Lesley Duncan said...

My dad was a prisoner working on the Death Railway, captured in Singapore. He never forgave the Japanese either.

Debby said...

This was a powerful post.

I should think that forgiveness depends on the depth of the injury the offense has caused you. Some people are shattered. I've been shattered a couple of times in my life. It took a while to reach the point of being able to look at the thing square on and deciding what to do with it. Both times, I made the decision to go on, which is a forgiveness. Going on means that you set down what holds you back, you turn your face to a new day, and you head on towards it.

Once I turned my attention to the new thing, once I found a new challenge, my need to punish my transgressors just began to fade away. The most powerful realization for me is that I am not a perfect person. "Forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me." Some people are so quick to anger. A bad driver? Outrage! A slow person with their shopping cart? Outrage! A random comment? Outrage! My God, that has got to be exhausting being outraged all the time.

I watch our country healing from the most divisive president in our history, and I see the outrage, on both sides. I'd be a liar if I didn't say that I've been outraged too. But I keep thinking at some point people are going to be exhausted by their outrage, so exhausted that it will simply fade away. I certainly hope so.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed this post. Very interesting about forgiveness and history.

Please forgive me but I do not understand - what is a Japanese Curate?

Thank you.

i hope you have a busy weekend. I also find myself sometimes lonely on the weekends. The M-F I fill up with classes and online meetings but the weekend are sometimes empty.

Rachel Phillips said...

No one around here forgave the Japanese for what they did and waited until the Norfolk and Suffolk regiments returned home from the Far East before any celebration of the end of the war.

the veg artist said...

My father served in Burma - he would not tolerate any mention of the Japanese either. Forgiveness, or as Debby says, moving on, is essential to us as individuals. Of relatives and work colleagues who have suffered from cancer over the years, I remember that each one had an issue that was still eating away at them, and it's led me to think that there could be a link.

Hard up Hester said...

I have not suffered in any serious way, there are only two things I can never forgive.

My ex husband for his cruelty towards my father when he was dying.

Myself.

Sue in Suffolk said...

What a good thought provoking post.

DUTA said...

Forgiveness between nations is a highly complicated issue. I'm more interested in forgiveness between individuals. There are people out there incapable of apologizing and/or asking forgiveness, even though they know deep down they've hurt the other. That's tragic. Luckily, I'm not among these. It makes me feel good to apologize, not to hold a grudge, not to seek revenge; it's a liberating feeling.

Mary said...

This is an amazing, beautifully written, post Pat. I read it whilst holding my breath and then took a deep one at the end and thought you should be writing a book! There are so many poorly written books - yours would be a best seller!!!!
Forgiveness is often so hard when one has been deeply hurt, maligned, abusively disparaged..........especially by family members. Friends are much kinder and forgiving is often easier.
Enjoy your weekend - hope the sun shines and life is pleasant.

Tasker Dunham said...

A wonderful post. It depends on the people and the circumstances. I can understand why some cannot forgive. It's more often difficult to understand how some can.

A Smaller Life said...

Such a thoughtful and thought provoking post, you really made me sit and think.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Anonymous - a Curate is attached to a Parish to help out the vicar - he evenntually will leave to take up a parish of his own. Forgive me - I am not a churchgoer so I can't give you details but many large Parishes which include perhaps as many as four or five diffferent churches have a Vicar in charge and a Curate to assist. Perhaps someone who is a churchgoer will read this and give us a more detailed answer. It is the fact that this particular Curate was Japanese that is interesting.
Rachel - your comment is most interesting.

CharlotteP said...

You're right, we can't be the ones to decide that someone else ought to forgive; but I thing we can be more certain in saying that the forgiveness does at least as much good for the one doing the forgiving, as for the forgiven.

Anne Brew said...

A very interesting post.

Derek Faulkner said...

Can't believe people still have to drag up stories about the W.W.'s, hasn't enough time gone by for people to appreciate the fact that the countries involved now get along fine and work and trade together OK. Do we still have to still keep going backwards, atrocities happen in wars, you can't fight wars nicely and gentlemanly.
One last point, you seem to be painting the Germans and the Japanese as the nasty ones, the British have committed their share, there's probably a lot of Indians with memory of the Partition that still dislike the British.

Ellen D. said...

Often anger hurts the angry person more!

Rachel Phillips said...

Your description of the curate is correct. The curate is an assistant to the parish priest or vicar. The term is in general usage in the Church of England. In the Catholic Church it is not so and the curate is normally referred to as the assistant priest and the term curate is not used. As you point out, the point of the story you were relating is that in this instance the curate was Japanese.

Heather said...

A fascinating and thought provoking post. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing but sometimes very hard to do.

Heather said...

My maternal Nan lost two first cousins in WW1 and a brother in law was a prisoner in Germany during WW2. She never expressed any negative feelings towards the Germans. But she could not forgive the Japanese for their cruelty and would not have anything in the house from Japan and would express her feeling of hate. My Dad's second cousin Lewis Galsworthy died on the Burma Railway, he was an only child.

The bike shed said...

True forgiveness is a gift, in that it is not something we are obliged to offer - and that is what makes it so powerful and transformative.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for the information Rachel. Derek Any intention to paint either Japanese or German people in a bad light is entirely unintentional. The whole point of my post was to point out that everyone needs to forgive and forget regardless of their nationality. My post was not intended to be just about war but about any situation where forgiveness was necessary. In fact the specific act I was thinking of when I wrote the post had nothing whatsoever to do with war but I was reminded of it by Matthew Parris's paragraph in The Times, my present reading and Michael Portillo's programme.

Thank you to everyone who contributed their views on forgiveness - all so interesting.

Tom Stephenson said...

Thanks for this post Weave, you are very insightful - as always. To forget is more difficult than to forgive, especially when all the events continue to unfold.

Susan said...

Forgive but never forget resonates with me.

Joanne Noragon said...

Thank you, Weaver. Forgiving is very difficult, but completely satisfying if achieved.

Cro Magnon said...

It was the actions of certain Germans and Japanese that should never be forgiven, or forgotten. The ringleaders were dealt with, but the majority who carried out their vile actions just melted back into society.

Janie Junebug said...

What an interesting post. Thank you for writing it. I'm interested in WWII history. I hadn't seen the term "Death Railway" before. I looked it up and knew what it meant, so now I have a title to apply to that version of hell.

Love,
Janie

Rachel Phillips said...

Forgiving, when it comes to individuals, is something that has to be worked at and a little bit of give and take is required on both sides.

Bonnie said...

This is an excellent post Pat and you bring up many important points. Forgiveness is a very personal thing for no one can know how another person feels. I think sometimes we need to forgive in order to free ourselves. Not forgiving can poison us more than the person we are angry with.

Jennyff said...

On a personal level I find it hard to forgive anyone who has hurt me or badly let me down, I certainly never forget. I don’t need reminders of people who have had a negative effect so I move on and away from them. I’m not sure how anyone affected by war, murder or other atrocities could ever be expected to forgive such life changing events,

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thank you all. Another topic which would have been so good for our armchair meetings over a coffee. Have a good week-end.

The Weaver of Grass said...


I recommend that anyone who wants to think even more deeply about this go to North Stoke's post today - which expands the subject even more and is so interesting to read in conjunction. *************

Debby said...

Weaver, I've been thinking about this post. An interesting read is Bishop Desmond Tutu's book of Forgiveness, which is focused on the Rwandan Genocide. The story that emerges is horrifying, neighbors killing neighbors, and how do you come back from a genocide? People lost their whole families. In some cases, they watched them be slaughtered.

As horrifying as it is, it is also a powerful testament to the courage of forgiveness offered and forgiveness accepted.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thank you for that recommendation Debby

Anonymous said...

"The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget."


A bit harsh with the stupid but I like the second two

Traveller

The Weaver of Grass said...

Many many thanks to you all