How easy it is to feel great anger and hatred towards the people who have hurt us – and how painful, stressful, and depressing it is to do too.
It’s never easy to forget the wrong they’ve done: the abuses we received, the injustices we suffered from their hands, and other forms of victimizations that we could consider traumatic.
All these have left deep scars into our consciousness. To a certain degree, they affect the way we think and see things, the way we deal with people, and the way we live in the present.
At first glance, it would seem that we will never forgive our tormentors. However, time has a way of healing all wounds, no matter how deep they may be.
At some point in time, we will learn to forgive.
Consider the story of British Army officer Eric Lomax, who served in Southeast Asia during World War II.
In 1942 Lomax was serving in Singapore when the Allied forces surrendered to the Japanese. He was marched, with fifty or sixty thousand other prisoners of war, to the deadly Changi Prison, and transported to Ban Pong, in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, to work on the “Death Railway”, which portions include the legendary Bridge on the River Kwai.
Lomax started to secretly make escape equipment but he was arrested and forced to stand outside in the blistering heat all day without food and drink.
He, along with five other prisoners, was clubbed unconscious by the Kempeitai or Japanese military police and left lying on the ground attended for days.
Due to the violence and brutality of the torture he received from the Kempeitai, Lomax suffered multiple fractures to his nose, arms, right hip, and several ribs – but it did not just end with the beatings.
At the Outram Road Prison in Singapore where he was imprisoned for the remainder of the war, he was caged in a crippling bamboo ‘coffin’ in the military police headquarter.
Of all his torturers, an interpreter named Takashi Nagase was particularly horrendous. Lomax decided that he would remember Nagase for the rest of his life and that he would take revenge one day.
Five years after the war ended, he was freed and was brought back to Britain. He was awarded a medal and an honorary rank of captain.
The horror of his past soon caught up with him. He suffered violent nightmares, was obsessed by terrifying memories, and other serious psychological traumas.
Still damaged forty-five years later, Lomax read a magazine article in the early 1990s about Nagase, who had written a book about his experiences during and after the war. Entitled Crosses and Tigers, the book described Nagase’s remorse at treating the prisoners so badly, especially one man, a British prisoner.
Recognizing himself as the British prisoner, Lomax wrote to Nagase. The two men eventually met at a war museum in Kanchanaburi.
As the former prisoner watched his former torturer approach, he saw that Nagase was trembling and in tears. The two men sat in silence for a while, and then Nagase started to say over and over again while fighting back the tears, “I am sorry. I am sorry. Please forgive me for what I did to you.”
Lomax and Nagase spent several days together and got to know each other better. When Lomax left, he gave Nagase a note which read, “Although I can’t forget the ill-treatment at Kanchanaburi, taking into account your change of heart, your apologies, and the work you are doing, please accept my total forgiveness.”
Know that it takes time to heal all wounds and above all, to learn to forgive our former tormentors.
Of course, it’s a difficult choice to make – to forgive the people who have wronged us, which is why it takes time.
Our bodies, after all, are not designed to harbor anger, hatred, resentment, attitudes of revenge, and other toxic emotions. It takes times to realize how these toxic emotions have shut us down for a very long time.
To liberate ourselves from such emotions, we must learn to forgive.
Let us allow ourselves time to embrace the disciple of forgiveness and, to some extent, know our tormentors better – as they are probably victims of some forms of victimizations too.
We should decide to forgive but understand that forgiveness will not happen right away.
We must allow ourselves time to reflect and to master the negative emotions that have consumed us in order to better appreciate the healing power of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not an easy option; it’s a hard choice to make but a wise one.