On Rev. Wright, Senator Obama, and Forgiveness

I read an open letter to Senator Obama last night, from a Jewish man named Lionel Chetwynd.  This letter is about a man who was eaten up with bitterness and anger over the Holocaust.  I think I can safely say that the Jews have the peak of righteous anger over not just that period, but throughout history. 

They have been hounded, enslaved, murdered, and almost exterminated in their history.  The desire to exterminate the Jews is alive and well today.  Anti-Semitism is rampant in Europe today, so-called hate crimes (I hate that term, all crime comes from hatred) run vastly higher in America than for any other group.

Here is a man who has every reason to hate, and to be bitter.  But he learned a lesson I learned long ago:  Forgiveness isn’t for the person you’re forgiving.  It’s for the person doing the forgiving.  Anger and bitterness will eat you alive, from the inside out.  It can rule your waking moments, and subconsciously, it wears out your health.

To Reverend Wright, Senator Obama, Tall-Eagle (see two posts back in the comments), and anyone else who is bearing the burden of lack of forgiveness: 

Forgive.  Let it go.  Not for my sake, your bitterness doesn’t affect me.  Let it go, for you.

On to Lionel Chetwynd’s letter.  This is only the first part, go, read the whole thing.

Dear Senator Obama:

I have now read and reread your speech, understanding you take this to be a “teaching moment,” I have applied myself to its lessons. But some questions have arisen and I need a little more clarification.

You tell me Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s horrendous remarks will take on a different meaning if I will but contextualize them and understand he has seen terrible things in his time, a burden shared by all African-Americans. A fair proposition; from Kant to Auden and beyond we learn we define by comparison and only by internalizing can we grasp true meaning. So I have done precisely that: looked inside myself to understand how hatred might need to be contextualized.

I did not have to look far. I remembered how, as a boy, I sat at the Passover Seder with my sister’s Polish-born husband and the remnants of his family. The remnants of five families to be precise, for the 12 weary souls around that table were all that remained of what had once been 300. The others – their loved ones, their sons, their daughters, their hopes and dreams – were gone, their lives consumed by zyklon-bgas, their mortal remains wisps of smoke from a Büchenwald chimney. These people, who had seen and suffered so much, read of my ancestor’s deliverance from Egypt exactly as the Bible instructed: in the present tense, as if it happened to them. “For with a mighty hand the Lord thy God raised thee out of Egypt and brought you from slavery to freedom.” But as they spoke – or really whispered such was the fear and holiness of the moment – they were not conjuring up Egyptian slavery as a present experience but recalling the horrors they themselves had witnessed, murder on a scope once unimaginable and only made possible by perverted technology. Though their Yiddish was foreign to me, I picked up the odd word. When they spoke of the Concentration Camp guards, they called them the Ukrainians. When they remembered the betrayal of their neighbors, I could distinguish the word Pole. But above all, it was the Germans, the hated Germans. The Hun. The Devil’s Scourge. And I was filled with a righteous hatred. Had I, in that moment, the power to end the life of every German on earth, I might have well done so. That is a shameful thought. I am humiliated by the memory. But perhaps, in context, you can understand my homicidal rage and forgive me, and should I have chosen to preach that doctrine in a place of worship and stir an audience to its feet as it cheered my righteous fury, I trust you would offer me the fig leaf of “context.”

As the Seder ended, my brother-in-law, seeing my rage, put his arm around my shoulder and asked what troubled me. I stammered the best explanation I could. He smiled, “Don’t be a fool,” he said, “the Germans left so many of us dead and stole the joy from so many that remain. So now you want to give them the final victory by allowing your own life to be consumed and twisted and deformed by the same hatred? Leave it to them. That’s why we, at this table, forgive. Not forget, but forgive. You just heard how Moses told the Israelites not to celebrate the death of the Egyptians in the Reed Sea. Learn.”

But his words were empty to me.

Read the rest.  This is, as they say, only half of this man’s story.


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