on Forgiveness

by Jacqueline Niederberger

(Winter, 1997)

  The distance between Susan and I was incalculable. How
do you measure the distance between earth and heaven (or hell for that matter)? The moon orbits the earth at an average distance of 238,000 miles, my astronomy book tells me, but isn't Heaven above that? Or is it? Heaven is that blue space which surrounds the earth -- where the moon, stars, and sun are hung, isn't?

  When Susan died, she put a space between us. I was on earth and she was separated from me by space. I cannot go to her and ask, face to face, that she forgive me for condemning her because she had an abortion. Why should a perfectly healthy, young married woman, living a comfortable middle class existence, blessed with three charming children and a husband who loved her, choose to have an abortion -- choose to kill an unborn child, I asked myself. When I asked why she wanted to commit this act, the answer was simply, "I don't want another child."  I never forgave my friend for what she did. How wrong and judgmental of me.

   Then Susan died suddenly in the middle of the night. She slipped and fell, striking her head on the bathtub. She was killed instantly. Susan's son found her the next morning and the village lamented the passing of a well-liked, respected person of the community. I mourned at her funeral and asked God to forgive my sin of unforgiveness. How I wished that I might ask Susan to forgive me, but she was gone, whisked from the earth in one brief moment, carried on the wings of night. I felt like the distance between us was insurmountable and the wrong hung heavy within my soul, its weight shackled my feet to the ground. Susan, forgive me, I cried, realizing that Susan may long ago, have repented, asked and received forgiveness from our loving Lord. Who was I to stand in judgment of another -- forgive me, Lord, I cried. If only I could tell Susan how wrong I was. Comfort came when the priest of our Mission said quietly, "She knows." "O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, that you may be feared." (Psalm 130:3,4)


REFLECT ON the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov who said, "For an offence, whatever kind may have been given, one must not only not avenge oneself, but on the contrary must all the more forgive from the heart, even though it may resist this, and must incline the heart by conviction of the word of God: If you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:15)



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