Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Long Read: To Forgive, Divine

The survivors of June's Charleston church massacre talk to Time Magazine and tell their stories of forgiveness and spirituality.

The word story might seem trifling here. Yet there are all kinds of stories, including true and tragic and momentous ones like this. But a story so freighted with shock and pain doesn’t end like a Hollywood movie, with the President singing and a divisive symbol coming down as the music swells. The dead are still dead, and sleepless nights of sorrow drag on. Loss is an aching void. And anger abides, even if the frank acknowledgment of it is now off script.

In the wake of the murders, families have split over the question of forgiveness. Church members have felt abandoned by their congregation. Hairline fissures in a wide network of relationships have burst under the pressures of sudden fame and grinding grief. And as the months have passed, the survivors of Emanuel and others in Charleston have continued to search for the meaning of this story, through a process that is intensely personal and sometimes uncomfortably public.

At the heart of that struggle are two complicated subjects: history and forgiveness. The murders at Emanuel must be fitted into the long and tangled history of race relations, racial violence and oppression that stem from America’s original sin. The accused killer, who published a manifesto of white supremacy before setting out on his hateful mission, made sure of that.

At the same time, the forgiveness expressed by some surviving family members left as many questions as it answered. Can murder be forgiven, and if so, who has that power? Must it be earned or given freely? Who benefits from forgiveness—the sinner or the survivor? And why do we forgive at all? Is it a way of remembering, or of forgetting?

In Charleston, survivors projected magnanimity and peace to the world. But feelings of outrage and demands for justice are every bit as real and long—lasting. Understanding what happened in the remarkable days after that act of evil requires a hard, relentless reckoning with all that has been lost and suffered.

There's a lot here, and if you're wondering why the usual Sunday Long Read post was late this week, it's because I was busy reading this and thinking about what it truly means to forgive someone who has taken a person you loved, and still love, through nothing more than hate and random circumstance.

This is some pretty weighty stuff, even for me.  It's worth the read, however.

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