I am one of those people that finds it hard to forgive. I find it hard to let go in general, of things good and bad and especially of control and predictability. To forgive is to allow the unpredictable in your life, to submit to the possibility that you have not foreseen and are not equipped for.
Recently I arrived into a room where I was working with 2 year olds. I was greeted by a little girl in tears. “She’s just been bitten” said one of my colleagues. There was a mark on the child’s hand and she was clearly in a lot of pain. She followed me quietly, showing me the mark again and again with tears flowing down her face. I comforted her of course but I could not make the terrible even not have happened. The child was very clear about wanting me to know that she was bitten, that there was a mark there and that it hurt. It seemed like all I could do was travel those facts with her again and again and allow her to stick close to me.
As the day progressed, a group of us- children and educators went for a walk to a beautiful garden nearby. The bitten child and the child who bit her both were there. In the beautiful garden we were all engrossed in the birds on the grass and in the trees, the flowers, the fish in the fountain, important things like that. We showed each other things, ran, rolled in the freshly grass until some of us were covered in green stains. The inevitable happened, another child fell and hurt her finger. She was comforted by one of the educators, assisted by all the children and suddenly the child who had been bitten ran up to the child who had bitten her and took her hand.
“Please don’t ever bite me again, is that ok?” she said in a half-stern, half-caring voice. I held my breath as it seemed almost rude of her to refer to the event so long after it had happened. The other child looked her in the eye, “Yes” she said calmly.
“Thank you very much” said the first child and it was as if the air sparkled, that was a definite sacramental moment and I caught the eye of another educator. Something amazing had happened. The two children hugged and ran off together in the friendliest possible way. These children were two, how did they know to keep it all so simple and so sacred?
The process of reconciliation in this true event was actually quite complex. The child needed the wisdom to move away and get comfort and acknowledgement, she needed a chance to feel a bit stronger in herself. She needed joy to have happened (play in the garden). Then as she approached the other child to heal the rift between them (notice it was the one who had been injured who began the reconciliation process) she did not make light of what had happened, but nor did she demand any sort of emotional show about it. She didn’t demand an apology, punishment or compensation from the other child she simply made it clear that she did not want to be bitten again. The other child appeared to have understood (at least in that moment) the need to have a better-care for their relationship. Both of them expressed a simple faith in the possibility of a better “from now on” and both were healed by the encounter.
Perhaps this is all too obvious to state, I cannot seem to find words to express how profound it was to witness it. I do not think I forgive so ungrudgingly or with so much honesty (I probably try to avoid talking about it unless I am laying blame). I do not think I take the hand of the person I want to forgive before they have even given me any sign of possibility. I do not think I (even metaphorically) roll in the grass and get grass-stains with the ones I feel injured by. And do I so simply without guilt or excuses agree to do better when I have hurt someone? Often not.
I did not say a word to those two children about their encounter, they had already used all possible words and few of them at that. But I was challenged to try to believe that life won’t “ever bite me again” that the church “won’t ever bite me again” that we will understand each other and move on.
So mote it be.