Forgiveness is not a feeling. If you wait to forgive until you feel a warm fuzzy emotion toward the person who has hurt you, the time may never come. Have you ever asked yourself, “How do I know when it is time to forgive?” I have heard many people pose this question to Forgiveness Advocate and Holocaust Survivor, Eva Mozes Kor. Eva’s answer is always some variation on this sentiment: after the trauma or offense has occured, you know it is time to forgive when you are tired of living with the pain, anger and sense of helplessness that comes with being a victim.
Forgiveness is a choice. You have the power to choose, which is not always easy to believe when your choices were at some point taken from you by someone who chained the weight of their own will onto your heart, mind and/or body. If you have ever been a victim, it is easy to remain a victim in your mind long after you have left the battlefield. However, that was then and this is now. You do have the choice to forgive.
I would like to do two things in this blog: First, I will share a brief description of the play I have written. Second, I will explain a metaphorical exercise that will help you assess whether or not you are ready to forgive.
The play is called Throwing Stones. It’s currently in development with the producing director and new plays development officer at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre. The theme of the play is forgiveness and it is based on Eva Mozes Kor’s experience as a survivor of the Holocaust. Eva and her 10-year-old twin sister, Miriam, were forced into a cattle car in Romania along with their father, mother and two older sisters. At the end of a grueling 70-hour journey, the doors opened in the concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. Almost immediately, a Nazi guard spotted Eva and Miriam, asked their mother if they were twins, and upon hearing her answer, “Yes,” the girls were swept away to the barrack in Birkenau that housed the twins upon whom Dr. Josef Mengele conducted painful, degrading and profane medical experiments, daily. The rest of Eva’s family was sent in the opposite direction and immediately marched to their deaths in the gas chambers. For the next 11 months Eva and Miriam survived torture, medical experiments, and the daily agony of being prisoners in Auschwitz.
50 years after her liberation from Auschwitz, Eva Mozes Kor made a decision to forgive her perpetrators. Throwing Stones focuses mainly on Eva’s decision to forgive, and the play also tells the story of how her forgiveness helped me to forgive the perpetrators in my own life. The play realistically depicts the fear, anxiety, depression, courage and victory that emerge throughout one’s journey toward genuine forgiveness and healing.
The title of the play, Throwing Stones, is based on this active metaphor. I invite you to participate in this metaphorical exercise and then share any of the ways in which it affected your own journey:
Take a moment to recall the names of people in your own life whom you currently feel you cannot forgive. Once you have recalled the names, find one large stone to represent each of the names. Write one of the names on each of the stones. These stones now represent the weight that each person adds to your soul. Carry these stones with you wherever you go—in a pocket of your clothing, a purse or a backpack—and let the weight remind you of your task. As you are ready to make a decision to forgive each individual, take his or her corresponding stone out and stop for a moment. Pause. Consider the offenses connected to the weight in your hand. Remember, consciously forgive and then . . . release. Throw the stone far from you: into a lake, down a tall hill, into a bonfire. Any place where you cannot return to pick it up, again. Let go of your unforgiveness completely and walk in a new direction, without the burden of that stone; without the burden of an unforgiving heart.
A heart that holds unforgiveness can be weighted with other anchors as well: fear, anger, bitterness, hatred. These anchors are heavy and they press against the sides of our hearts and identities, affecting the openness we have in relationship to others. Our souls are aware of the anchors and do not dare to move too far in any direction, away from the epicenter of our pain and self-doubt. However! When you forgive, you pull up these anchors and feel your buoyancy return. Your sails fill with the breath of freedom and the horizon turns from a distant reminder of your stuck state to a destination toward which you can travel.
Forgiveness is a choice. The choice is yours.
(Photo by Hiroyuki Takeda)
–Jill Szoo Wilson