In the peaceful main hallway at Hart House, there hangs a series of panels that depict murderers, mothers, former gang members and an archbishop. This seemingly eclectic collection of photos and stories seeks to “explore how ideas around forgiveness, reconciliation and conflict resolution can be used to impact positively on people’s lives.” As part of the Wounds into Wisdom series of tri-campus events this year, The F Word: The Forgiveness Project Exhibition highlights exceptional stories of what comes after pain.
There were many different, including some very surprising, reactions to the idea of what comes after pain and whether forgiveness, or otherwise, was an appropriate response. One perpetrator felt asking for forgiveness added “insult to injury” to the relatives and family member. Robi Damelin, whose son was killed while serving in the Israeli army, urged the army not to take revenge in the name of her son upon hearing the news of his death.
Mariane Pearl whose husband, the American journalist Daniel Pearl, was “murdered by a militant Islamic fundamentalist group” said that she had no reason to forgive her husband’s killer, that forgiveness was “too lame an answer for extreme situations”. She instead has chosen “to win some sort of victory over the people who have hurt [her]” by continuing to live and value life.
Conversely, Azim Khamisa found what was called for was forgiveness, and then some. Azim offered a job to his son’s murderer at the foundation Azim had set up in his son’s name after he realized that “there were victims at both ends of the gun.”
Walking through the exhibit, I found it to be more moving that I thought it would be. After all, these sorts of conflicts are things I have studied for the last four years as part of my Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies program. But many of these stories and reactions to the conflicts were deeply personal and certainly beyond what I had expected to find while wandering the halls on campus.
Stories like the ones in the exhibit reminded me of a great quote from journalist Nahlah Ayed in her book, A Thousand Farewells:
“People are not quotes or clips, used to illustrate stories about war and conflict. People are the story, always.”
Particularly when we’re immersed in theoretical academia, this sentiment can be an easy thing to forget.
Forgiveness, on a day-to-day basis, can also be easily forgotten. One of favourite stories of everyday forgiveness comes from a friend who saw her wallet being stolen out of her bag while she was giving a presentation in class. Instead of calling the thief out (as I likely would have done), Toronto-based poet and artist Paloma wrote a poem called “to the man who stole my wallet”, part of which is excerpted below.
i am not so angry
as you expect
me to be.
those sixty-one dollars,
i am happy to
please buy yourself something
that makes you happy
and something that makes
the quarter with the triangle of turquoise
I was keeping,
for my sister who collects coins.
maybe your sister
The ability to see the person within the perpetrator is what humbles me both in this poem and in The F Word exhibit. It is something for us all to keep in mind as we navigate what comes after pain.
The Forgiveness Project was founded by journalist Marina Cantacuzino, with photos taken by Brian Moody. The University of Toronto version is a joint collaboration between Hart House, the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office, Hillel of Toronto (U of T), Ask Big Questions and the Multi-Faith Centre. Exhibits can be seen from Sept. 20th – Oct. 16th at Hart House (main hall) with additional panels at Hillel of Toronto, the Multi-Faith Centre, First Nations House and in the lobby of 215 Huron St. Further information for the exhibit, along with info for the related movie screenings and conflict resolution workshops may be found here.