"I have forgiven all--parents, husband, the government. I am happy. My baby laughs and I laugh. Life laughs, and I am happy." -Massoma from "Forgiveness: A Prose Poem"
I know that forgiveness is crucial to human harmony. I know I'm supposed to forgive my trespassers. But when called upon to actually forgive, I may be good at "letting go" and "moving on" but does anyone's name ever leave that ledger inside my mind, the one that keeps track of those who have hurt me? I'm not sure. Though I know that forgiveness is the path to peace, the operative word--still-- is know. Action is something else altogether.
Then I read a poem by Massoma, a writer in the Afghan Women's Writing Project. I am floored. I have read this poem multiple times, and each time I am struck not just by what she has been through, but her generosity--the depth of which seems hard for me to even comprehend:
"Forgiveness: A Prose Poem"
My head exploded, full of their talking, talking. They talked and talked and sold me. They laughed, happy. I was sad and crying, had no power over this. I played, the child I was. I played, but had to go toward the life that would be mine. My head exploded, full of new talking. They talked and talked. I was not a good bride. I was not a perfect woman, because I was thirteen. My head exploded, full of their talking. They talked and talked and beat me. Filled with pain, I was a mother, but had nothing. I had forgiven, all of my life, move now toward my future, happy. My head exploded. My head exploded. I love my infant, my family. I have forgiven all--parents, husband, the government. I am happy. My baby laughs and I laugh. Life laughs, and I am happy.
Her baby laughs and she laughs. Life laughs, and she is happy. The beauty and hard-won hope in those lines fill me with awe. I am reminded of the greatness that humans have within them--because for me, this is greatness. If Massoma can forgive those who forced her to marry as a child, who treated her as chattel, who beat her when she disobeyed, I call on all of us to look at pains we carry, at the anger we can't let go, and challenge ourselves to seek healing--to call on our reserves of love. And release.
When I first spent time focused on forgiveness, my first question was: what about justice? Is forgiveness supposed to mean that people who commit atrocity and assaults of all kinds are supposed to be off the hook? But the more I read the work of the Fetzer Institute, the organization that spearheads their own "love and forgiveness" campaign, the more I accept the wisdom that forgiveness is not about crime and punishment--it's about the hurt person putting down a terrible burden. If we accept the Buddha's teaching that holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die, forgiveness is about refusing to drink anymore of that foul brew.
Writers in the Afghan Women's Writing Project have spent the last six months digging deeply into their thoughts and beliefs about love and forgiveness. I encourage you to visit the site and read their work. You will be nourished and surprised and angered and floored again and again by their poems and stories. We may rage against a world that allows for child brides, and many of us fight to end this practice. But we can't forsake the opportunity to listen to those whom we try to help, and hear the wisdom that they have to share.