NEWS: Witnessing a collective humanity: The Forgiveness Project book launches in New York

The paperback edition of The Forgiveness Project: Stories for a Vengeful Age was launched at the Barnes and Noble flagship store in New York on 26th April. Taking part in an accompanying Forgiveness Conversation were four people whose stories reflect and underpin the ethos and values of The Forgiveness Project charity.

TFP_New YorkMarina Cantacuzino, founder of The Forgiveness Project, began by giving a brief outline of the charity, describing how the book came to life and explaining how the charity’s series of Forgiveness Conversations provides a rare opportunity for inquiry, reflection and open discussion around the meaning and purpose of forgiveness.

She then introduced the speakers, beginning with Fr Michael Lapsley from South Africa who she first met in 2003 whilst collecting stories for The F Word exhibition. She recalled how he had told her that whilst recovering from the trauma of losing both hands in a letter bomb he realised he could be “more of a priest with no hands than with two.” Now on the fourth floor of America’s most famous bookstore, he talked to a packed room about forgiveness as something that should be earned through reparation and restitution, illustrating his position through what he calls bicycle forgiveness: “This is when I come and steal your bicycle. Six months later I come back to you and admit that I am the one who stole your bike. ‘I am very sorry I stole your bike, please forgive me?’ I say. Because you are someone who wants to make things better you say: ‘Yes, I do forgive you.’ But, I keep the bike.”
Photo by Brian Moody

Fr Michael Lapsley. Photo: Brian Moody

Photo by Jeanne Book

Phyllis Rodriguez. Photo: Jeanne Book

Phyllis Rodriguez whose son Greg was killed in the twin towers in 9/11 spoke about compassion and empathy and reminded everyone that peace can be garnered by connecting with the pain of the other, even those who you assumed were your enemy. “Before Greg died I’d felt a distant empathy for all those parents in the world who had lost children, but after he died there was this deep understanding. We were all the same.”

Scarlett Lewis sat on the stage behind a giant photographic image of the final chalk scribblings of her six year old son, Jesse, who was killed at Sandy Hook elementary school in December 2012. Jesse had written on a chalk board a few days before he died the words “nurturing healing love” spelt phonetically.

Scarlett explained why forgiveness had saved her life, providing meaning and purpose in the face of senseless horror. Forgiveness she said was “the only resilient response to trauma and profound grief.”

TFP book in BandNFinally, Mathew Shurka reflected The Forgiveness Project’s ambition to broaden the stories beyond those that focus only on atrocity or extreme acts of violence, to the “smaller” more everyday family hurts and resentments that affect us all. Mathew’s story is one of forgiving his father for having sabotaged his adolescence when he forced him to undergo conversion therapy on learning his son was gay. Mathew also spoke of ultimately forgiving the therapists who convinced him to severe his close ties with his mother and sisters and who made him believe he was deviant. Many in the audience who felt harmed by a parent clearly related to Mathew’s story.

Marina ended the evening by personally thanking all the speakers for underlining the importance of sharing restorative narratives as way of helping to mend broken hearts and repair broken communities. As one audience member put it: “What I’ve witnessed here tonight is a collective humanity; these four human stories could not be more significant at a time when us versus them rhetoric increasingly clouds complex conflicts and threatens our existence.”

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