I've been thinking a lot about the murdered Amish girls--fast-forwarding past the scene I don't want to visualize as they stood, lined up at the chalkboard--and, instead, trying to take in the way the Amish community responded to the violence. I haven't heard a single Amish person calling the murderer a motherfucker, as I did. Instead, along with burying their own, they paid their respects at the murderer's funeral and set up a fund for his family.
This is not the typical path of forgiveness.
Normally forgiveness requires an apology. Sometimes a person will beg for forgiveness and still we shake our heads, no. This is because the person must first suffer. He must feel shame and humiliation before earning our forgiveness. He must also be punished in proportion to our outrage. Some crimes we've deemed unforgivable.
Oddly enough, this gruesome and unfathomable crime clarifies a book-related topic I'd planned to write about here. I suppose everyone remembers James Frey, the bestselling author whose memoir, after a thumbs-up from Oprah Winfrey, was found to contain gross fabrications. Well, just a few weeks ago, he came out of exile and gave his first interview to The Guardian.
Is it ludicrous to talk about Frey-gate in the context of the innocents slaughtered in Lancaster? Sure it is. And then again, maybe not.
Based on the lynching Frey received both before and after his exile, his seems to be an example of an unforgivable crime.
Given the standard model of forgiveness, Frey had gone through the steps. Suffering? He was subjected to a public scolding by Oprah, not to mention the press and blogosphere. Punishment? He was fired by both his agent and publisher and agreed to give back some portion of his earnings. Apology? Yes. But this may be where the snag is. Frey has not displayed the level of regret or emotion required of him. And for this, in order to show their disgust, many have vowed not to read anything he writes in the future.
I'm not going to try to say where the line is between justifiable anger and something ugly and hateful. All I know is it's an easy line to cross. I've crossed it in my car, in parking lots, in grocery stores, and at home. It happens quickly, the sting of feeling violated, the sense of being right, the desire to show someone what's what. And it doesn't take long to become the very thing I hate.
I assume, once upon a time, before he became a child molester and murderer, the man who killed the Amish schoolgirls had some good reason to be angry.
The trick is catching it before it mixes with conceit, vengeance, obsession and the ingredients that take healthy anger and create something foul and harmful from it.
I am not as forgiving as the Amish. I still call murderers motherfuckers. If someone cuts in line and then trips, I'll probably smile. Still, I can't help but feel goosebumps to see what the human heart is capable of. Forgiveness, apparently, has nothing at all to do with the perpetrator. Forgiveness is ours to give or withhold whenever we want.
In memory of little girls who paid for someone's unchecked hatred, I'm going to let go of something that angers me today. And I'll try to do the same tomorrow.