This is a good time to remember how much we can learn from the peacemakers among us.
In 2008 during an Israeli air strike, two rockets smashed into the bedroom of Dr. Abuelaish’s daughters at their Gaza home. Three of his eight daughters were killed along with his niece. Here is his haunting description from his book, I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey: “There was a monstrous explosion …I realized the explosion had come from my daughters’ bedroom…The sight in front of me was something I hope no other person ever has to witness – the body parts of my daughters and niece.”
Dr. Abuelaish now lives in Toronto and teaches at the University of Toronto. He has applied for Canadian citizenship. Instead of seeking revenge or sinking into despair and hatred, Dr. Abuelaish established the Daughters for Life Foundation in memory of his daughters Bessan, Mayar and Aya.
“If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, then I would accept their loss…What we need is respect [for each other] and the inner strength to refuse to hate. Then we will achieve peace.”
On New Years Eve 1997 Katy Hutchison’s husband Bob went next door to check on a party being thrown by their neighbour’s son in Squamish British Columbia. She never saw him again. He was beaten and kicked to death. Here is Katy’s description of what happened: “Less than an hour after Bob was murdered, I stood in the emergency ward beside his body, overwhelmed by a sense of peace, knowing that wherever Bob was now, it was much safer than the place he had just been. Then I went home to tell my four-year-old twins, Amelia and Sam, that their Daddy was dead. I looked into their eyes and knew that I could not allow their lives to become dominated by their father’s death. I promised them and I promised myself that underneath the horror of what had just happened we would find a gift.”
A four year code of silence descended on the community. Eventually, Ryan Aldridge was arrested. Surprisingly the young man asked to meet Katy. In her words: “I found myself face-to-face with the man who had murdered my husband. As he sobbed it was all I could do not to hold him. Second to the day I gave birth, it was probably the most human moment of my life.”
You can read more about her Katy Hutchison’s work on restorative justice and forgiveness here. Or check out her book, Walking After Midnight: One Woman’s Journey Through Murder, Justice, and Forgiveness. You can read Ryan’s story and apology here.
In April 1999 a few days after the Columbine high school massacre in Colorado, a 14-year-old student walked into a high school in Taber Alberta and opened fire with a sawn-off .22 calibre rifle. The Rev. Dale Lang’s son Jason was killed. Five days later on national television, he forgave the young boy who gunned down his son in the copycat Columbine shooting. Lang has often said he still doesn’t know how he did it. This may be the reason:
“The problem will be if you can’t reach that place of forgiveness, then you’re going to get stuck in that place of anger and bitterness…Forgiveness is not saying it’s okay or acceptable, it’s saying that I’m choosing to let go of this for my own health and to move on in life.”
Lang has become a tireless crusader against the sort of bullying and school violence that led to his son’s death. You can read more in his book, Jason Has Been Shot!
The photograph of nine year old severely burned Kim Phúc running naked down the road after being napalmed during the Vietnam War is one of the most memorable images of the twentieth century. She has endured unrelenting pain ever since. Ms Phúc is now a Canadian citizen after receiving political asylum in the 1990’s. She and her husband have two children and live in Ontario. You can read more in her biography, The Girl in the Picture. Today she is a global ambassador for peace. Do check out her Kim Foundation International.
I’ll leave the last word to her.
“Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed. Napalm is very powerful, but faith, forgiveness, and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope, and forgiveness. If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?”
“Peace is not the absence of war. It is the presence of justice and the absence of fear.” (Ursula Franklin)