Monday, October 30, 2006

Reconciliation and Forgiveness

When we talk about empowering communities and encourage participation in the political process, partnership is key. Sometimes this means making new alliances and for that to happen, sometimes we need to make forgiveness and reconciliation happen.

This is a piece I have written for the Forgiveness Project.

“It was an acceptance really – not just that this is the way things are,but that this is the way things should be.”

In 1992, Simon Wilson, was the victim of a hit and run car crash in ruralNorfolk which left him chronically disabled. The driver was never caughtbut Simon’s experience led him to train for ordained ministry. He is aPublic Preacher and co-ordinates RoadPeace in East Anglia - a nationalorganisation working with people injured or bereaved through road crashes. He is also Chaplain to Norfolk Constabulary and Fire Service.For me forgiveness has been about making sense of what happened to me.I was 25, living with my parents and doing temporary work when early onemorning I was the victim of a hit and run accident. The car came fromnowhere, cut across me and forced me into the ditch. The next thing thatI knew was that I was in intensive care having undergone major emergencysurgery. I had a ruptured spleen, punctured lung and other severe internalinjuries. The driver was never found but apparently someone rung thehospital asking if a person had been brought in from a car crash. I don’tthink they wanted a fatality on their conscience.I was in hospital for three months and in the following years had 12 moreoperations. In one year alone I spent a hundred nights in hospital.Then, four years ago, I was told that my condition was incurable and thatthe prognosis was not good. In a way that was almost liberating becauseup until then I’d always thought I could fix it.Initially after the crash, I was very angry and because I didn’t know whoto direct this anger at. I became quite paranoid, wondering if someone inmy village had been out to get me. I wanted the person who’d done this tome to be suffering like I was. I’d never been someone to get easily angryand it was scary feeling this way. I became difficult to be around. But Iknew I had to work though it - find some sort of forgiveness so that Icould bring closure to the situation.Being in hospital or ill at home, day after day, you’re living withyourself and you have to face a lot of things: so increasingly I spent along time in deep reflection, and went through what might be described asa rite of passage. Eventually I came a point when I wasn’t angry with theperson who had done this to me anymore. It was a bit of an epiphany Isuppose. From that time on - when things began to make sense, when thehurt and bitterness had died down – that’s when I found myself in a placeof forgiveness. It was an acceptance really – not just that this is theway things are, but that this is the way things should be.In a spiritual sense I felt I’d been saved for something and as I becamemore vulnerable my faith became more important. I wish the accidenthadn’t happened, but it made me much stronger than I was before. I alsomet my wife when we were both training for ordination.Forgiveness is something you have to do every day and it’s something thatyou have to keep doing because anything can trigger that anger again. I’mnot angry that the driver wasn’t locked up, but sometimes I do feel angrythat they just drove off without checking to see if I was alive or dead.One thing I find difficult is that in church I’ve heard sermons aboutforgiveness and thought ‘who are you to tell me to forgive?’ It can soundso easy but it’s the hardest thing in the world. Some people within thechurch believe you can’t forgive unless the other person repents but to merepentance isn’t a condition of forgiveness because ultimately forgivenesscomes from within. Only I know whether I forgive or not.In my work with RoadPeace most of the victims or bereaved families I seesay they would like to forgive but can’t. However they do eventuallyreach a place of ease and move beyond anger. Sometimes people tell methat the person who caused the accident hasn’t been punished enough. Iunderstand where they’re coming from but I always say ‘what’s enough? Noone will ever be punished enough.’ Occasionally people really don’t wantto forgive and I find that sad because I’m in no doubt that not forgivingis detrimental. Bitterness builds up and spreads out to other people:marriages break up, people fall ill or lose their jobs. I think everyonehas the capacity to forgive but they sometimes need help finding thoseinner resources.Some people think I’m being pious telling people to forgive but actually Idon’t tell anyone to do anything, I simply tell people that the place I’vereached is a better place than the place I was at before.

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