How would you feel if the people designing the future of ground zero in New York City were to include a small patch of green and call it a Garden of Forgiveness?
Perhaps you would feel as one nameless woman in New York who looked straight into a camera recently and said, "I think it's absurd; I don't think we should forgive the people who did this to us."
Or maybe you would agree with a young man who put it this way: "I think that these families (of the victims) need some closure, and the only way they're gonna get closure is to see when (justice) is done on the man that put on the attack."
Maybe you would agree with the gray-haired man who said, "I think it's overdue. Forgiveness is what we're supposed to do."
Or perhaps you prefer a more blunt assessment, such as the one offered by yet another man. "I think if we don't show a little forgiveness then we're no better than the terrorists that acted upon it in the first place."
Each of these people appears in a documentary titled, "The Power of Forgiveness," the latest production of filmmaker Martin Doblemeier, who has spent much of the past 25 years exploring religious themes. The film is scheduled to air on PBS some time next fall. Its message, however, is timeless.
Doblemeier does a good job of revealing both the power that forgiveness wields, as well as its many complexities; the struggles between forgiveness and other raw emotions.
A while back, I wrote a column about a woman on Long Island who nearly died when a young thrill-seeker tossed a frozen turkey through her windshield. The woman stunned prosecutors and other observers when she insisted on a light sentence for the young man who did this to her; then she touched a lot of hearts, including that of the young man himself, when it all played out in court.
That column led me to a publicist in California, who put me in touch with Doblemeier, who screened his film recently in Park City.
Doblemeier said the subject of forgiveness is beginning to gain a foothold in academic circles. "Twenty years ago, in the mid-'80s, academics who wanted to study forgiveness were being laughed out their profession," he said. "In 2005, there were nearly 1,000 studies being done on the subject."
Those studies are a part of Doblemeier's film, including one in which subjects are hooked to blood-pressure monitors and asked to recall a time when they were hurt or treated badly. Even people who normally had low blood pressure saw it rise to unhealthy levels as they began relating their experiences. People who had forgiven, however, returned quickly to normal blood-pressure levels afterward. Others remained at unhealthy levels a lot longer.
It didn't seem to matter what incident they chose to recall. People who had forgiven enormous offenses were much better off than those who hung onto even the slightest grudge.
The film doesn't focus on the ground zero Garden of Forgiveness idea. It explores the subject through seven vignettes, including Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, people in Northern Ireland, the friendship between two men whose families were involved in a murder one as the victim, the other as the killer and the Amish community that recently forgave the massacre of children at a school in Pennsylvania.
It studies the notion that forgiveness, more than anything else, is a liberating gift people can give to themselves.
But the ground zero garden has a special resonance because, in one way or another, it affects just about everyone who reads this column. Chances are, you know someone fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq. Chances are, you have an opinion about the war.So how do you really feel? Would such a garden symbolize weakness? Would it minimize the terrorist attacks of 9/11? For that matter, are people who easily forgive others more vulnerable to abuse? Or do you agree with the wife of a man killed in the twin towers who said, "We must have something that symbolizes that this country is healing and embracing again."
Jay Evensen is editor of the Deseret Morning News editorial page. E-mail: [email protected]