I have no words for what I have felt these past days reading many of your blog comments. It is clear to me that even after all this time, there is so much healing to be done around the Vietnam War. I know from my own life that essential to healing is forgiveness. The most moving comments to me were those from veterans who said they have disliked me for years and now, having read my post about my trip to Hanoi, they understand better and can forgive me. This tells me two things: that these men are brave –because it takes much courage to give up preconceptions. It also shows me and that these men are on a path of healing and for that I am grateful. Ironic that the QVC incident became an opportunity for healing and forgiveness.
I recall reading Secretary of State Robert McNamara’s book, “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam” in which he took a stand against the war he had orchestrated, saying that it was “wrong, terribly wrong.” In an amazing documentary, “Fog of War,” he said the greatest lesson for him was the need to know one’s enemy — and to “empathize with him.” “We must try to put ourselves inside their skin and look at us through their eyes.”
I had harbored such anger against McNamara, but when I read his book and saw the documentary I hoped I would one day have a chance to thank him for his courage. I knew from friends of his how he had long suffered because of what he had done. In 2005, I met him at a book fair in Wales and went up to him and told him how grateful I was that he had the courage to say what he said, admit what he did was wrong. That was a healing moment for me.
Poet and teacher Stephen Levine in his book, A Year to Live, wrote, “Even an unsuccessful attempt at forgiveness has the considerable power of its intention. We cannot force forgiveness because force closes the heart, but we can explore its possibilities, its capacity to heal the forgiver, and sometimes the forgiven.” Levine also said that forgiveness “is mercy in action in the same way that compassion is wisdom in action.”
In my new book I write about forgiveness and I quote Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi who describes what it does to us when we are unable or unwilling to forgive:
“… when I refuse to forgive someone who has wronged me, I mobilize my own inner criminal justice system to punish the offender. As judge and jury, I sentence the person to a long prison term without pardon and incarcerate him in a prison that I construct from the bricks and mortar of a hardened heart. Now as jailor and warden, I must spend as much time in prison as the prisoner I am guarding. All the energy that I put into maintaining the prison system comes out of my “energy budget.” From this point of view, bearing a grudge is very “costly,” because long-held feelings of anger, resentment, and fear drain my energy and imprison my vitality and creativity.
So, thanks to all and may we all experience the healing power of forgiveness.