NEWS: 6th Annual Lecture – ‘Thoroughly entertaining and deeply moving’

“The Quality of Mercy: anger, forgiveness and making peace with the past’” was the thought-provoking title of the 2016 Forgiveness Project Annual Lecture held this year at the Royal Geographical Society in London on Friday, 2nd December.
tfp-al_5“Thoroughly entertaining and deeply moving” is how one audience member described the event. She was referring to the poet Lemn Sissay sharing his painful story of abandonment, and who had stated simply “I refuse not to laugh in my own story – even if the joke is on me”.

Lemn told of how he was fostered at a very young age to a couple in Lancashire who treated him as their own until he became a defiant teenager at which point they sent him back to local authority care, with all contact cut. The only way to create meaning in his life after such a brutal separation was through poetry.
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In our 6th Annual Lecture, Lemn revealed how when his anger started destroying him forgiveness became his life-line and in the end was all he had to help him let go of the pain. “When I was able to forgive my foster parents, a whole window of memories opened up for me” he explained to a packed auditorium before explaining that despite meeting with his birth mother and reconnected with his foster parents there had been no real reconciliation with either.

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The event was skilfully chaired by writer and campaigner, Melissa Benn, who then introduced the other two speakers. Mathew Shurka had come all the way from New York to share his story about forgiving his father for making him undergo conversion therapy when he was 16-years-old. The agonising five year ordeal left him alienated, angry and eventually not speaking to his father. Only after Mathew eventually was able to transform anger into understanding, did he reach out to his father again. In this simple gesture of forgiveness, Mathew explained “I got my father back.”

tfp-al_4Rachel Kelly’s story took a different turn. Focusing on her two serious bouts of depression she described how self-compassion and self-forgiveness were at the heart of her recovery. As with Lemn, poetry has been her inspiration, providing her with words when she couldn’t find her own.

While the theme of the lecture was broad, all three speakers considered carefully their understanding of forgiveness, agreeing it had the power to enlarge the future while laying the past to rest. As Lemn said in his concluding remarks, “forgiveness allows me to say – after everything I’ve been through – this is not just about me!”
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