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.