[from Breaking Free from Critical Addiction: Our #1 Social Disease]
While many of us are learning how to empower ourselves by letting go of the victim perspective on life, sometimes it is difficult not to see ourselves or others as unjustly treated. There appear to be real villains and victims in the world, and some things seem unforgivable. Can we forgive people for committing murder and other atrocities without being in denial? This true story demonstrates that there is nothing you cannot forgive.
A friend, who I shall call Mary, first joined our A Course in Miracles study group when she was going through a horrendous child-custody battle with her husband. He was severely disturbed and had projected his guilt on Mary by trying to make her think that she was insane. He kicker her out of their home and vowed that he would never give her one cent or return any of her things. He also vowed never to let her see her son, Benji, again.
He was a sick and bitter man who lived in the woods to avoid the people he hated. He taught Benji to say things like,“People are pigs.” He was wealthy enough to wage a prolonged court battle against Mary, in an attempt to prove that she was an insane and incompetent mother. He hired three lawyers, two psychiatrists, and two psychologists to prove his case. After two and a half painful years, the court reached its decision. They awarded Mary custody of Benji, along with a relatively small financial settlement. He was given visitation rights, even though the judge and his own psychiatrists saw him as harmful to himself and others when he didn’t get what he wanted.
He was furious and carefully set out to plan his revenge. He gave away his most valuable possessions, sold all of his stocks and bonds, withdrew his money from the bank, and took the cash home with him. Then he picked up Benji for the weekend, giving Mary a large check drawn on a bank account that he had just emptied. Next, he took Benji into his house and fatally shot him, set his house on fire, and then shot himself.
He must have wanted to make sure that the house and everything in it burned to the ground, because he cut the neighbor’s telephone lines, preventing them from calling the fire department. Then he parked his truck in the entrance to his land so that no one could get up the driveway. We can only assume that he wanted to be sure nothing was left for Mary. His final touch of vengeance was that he did this horrible crime early in the morning on Mother’s Day.
The initial shock almost killed Mary with grief. Then she realized that, while she couldn’t change what had happened, she could choose what she wanted to come of this tragedy. She asked, “Do I want to live or die?” To her, this meant, “Do I want to continue to be myself and love life, or do I want to die a slow death through hatred of this man who murdered my son and tried to take everything from me?” Life or death; love or hate. She had no illusions about the choice she was making, for she knew that hate would block her from fully expressing her love for Benji and for life itself. Love and hate cannot coexist. To experience one is to give up the other. When we hate, we do not love.
Mary wanted to continue loving Benji and to express her love for Benji in the activities of her life. So, instead of hanging on to her grievances and infecting herself with the same hatred that had caused both deaths, Mary chose to see it differently and forgive him with God’s help.
While Mary knew better than anyone just how cruel his actions could be, she was also aware of what went on inside of his mind to cause such hatred. He was a hurt person, so he thought that by hurting others he could somehow relieve his own pain and guilt. We all do that when we choose to hang on to a grievance. But every time he hurt someone else, it only increased his guilt, escalating into madness. He couldn’t face his own guilt, and so he wasn’t able to forgive himself. He didn’t know how to forgive, so he never released his pain. When Mary asked him why he did these things, he replied,“Because I need help.”
He suffered from such hatred that he tried to take everything away from Mary, and what he couldn’t take away, he destroyed, even when it meant destroying what he loved the most, which was his own son, Benji. To hate this man or anyone is to become infected with the same disease that led to his death. Mary saw hatred as a disease, and she refused to let this sickness infect her. She chose to remain healthy and loving. She didn’t allow this sick man to decide how she was to live her life. She was free to love and therefore to live, which is what his True Self really wanted for her, for that is what he truly wanted for himself but didn’t know how to get.
She didn’t do this alone. She has a deep and abiding love of God that she called upon to forgive her husband for her. It was the strength of God in her that made forgiveness possible and still shines as a light of inspiration for us all. She truly qualifies as a teacher of forgiveness.
Mary told me, “You can’t hurt good. The devil can’t penetrate God, and I want to be proof of that. I’m not going to let this illness put a piece of anger in my heart where I would have to live with it.”
Mary is proof that we can forgive anyone for anything, because it is natural to love and, therefore, absolutely necessary to forgive. Forgiveness is not a luxury reserved for saints. If we are to love at all, forgiveness is a necessity. When we are holding a grievance against anyone, we are not free to be ourselves; we are not free to live, love, and enjoy life. If Mary can forgive this man, is there anyone or anything you can’t forgive?
It’s is okay to be angry. Forgiveness is a process that is not done alone. It starts with recognizing your resentment or anger. That’s how you know there is something to forgive. Accept it, express it, and then ask God to help you release it. Let God forgive for you. Don’t try to do it alone.
Above all else, don’t make yourself wrong for being angry or upset—and don’t fear your emotions, because your fear will make you sick. This man’s fear of his emotions stopped him from seeing the real problem, which was his own emotional state. If he had been able to recognize and heal his anger, this tragedy would never have happened.
If this man had known how to make his life turn out loving and happy, he would have done it. He simply didn’t know how. This is true of anyone who ever hurt you. Within their ignorance is their innocence. This is true for all of us. Within our ignorance is our innocence.
Don’t think Mary didn’t grieve for her son, because she did. She felt the loss of her son’s touch very deeply, but she knew that the most she could do for him was to love him. At first, she struggled with how to love her son and make contact with him in a meaningful way, without the ability to see or touch him. She had to learn a new way of loving.
There is one thing of which I am certain, and I know Mary is too—her son is just fine. Like all of us, he came into this life to learn and teach love, for that is what he is and what we all are. He did a fine job of it, for in less than four short years he won the hearts of many people, while loving passionately in the middle of a war zone. What an accomplishment!
When I think of Benji, I will forever think of the power of forgiveness and miracles, for I saw a tragedy of great proportion turned into a lesson on love. Many lives in Mary’s community were transformed. She showed people a new way of living … a way of forgiving. We saw for ourselves that there is no order of difficulty in miracles, and there is nothing that cannot be forgiven.
“Forgiveness is the key to happiness. Here is the answer to your search for peace. Here is the key to meaning in a world that seems to make no sense. Here is the way to safety in apparent dangers that appear to threaten you at every turn, and bring uncertainty to all your hopes of ever finding quietness and peace.”