The Magic Eyes of Understanding

So I was surfing around the internet the other day, thinking about forgiveness, and I came across the fable of the magic eyes … see what you think!

a fable about THE MAGIC EYES.

 

Once upon a time in a land that was far away and near to my heart there was a small village which had a baker, Zed, who was well steeped in righteousness. Zed was a tall thin man, even his face was long and thin. He was so upright and righteous that he seemed to spray righteousness even as he spewed vituperations on any who came within his sight. So, people mostly stayed out of his sight.

In contrast, Zed’s wife, Amia, was short, soft and plump. She just looked cuddly, and her soft cuddliness invited people to come closer to enjoy her warm, open cheerfulness. Now, Amia loved and respected Zed, but his upright righteousness kept her at arm’s length, and she yearned for something more. And in that yearning need was the seed of sadness within Amia’s soul and between Amia and Zed.

Life went on and wants and needs followed their course, and one morning, after Zed had been working since dawn preparing his doughs for the oven, he came home for a brief rest and found Amia with a stranger in their bedroom. Amia’s indiscretion became the talk of the town. Now scandal was in the house of Zed the righteous.  Everyone expected that Zed would send Amia away. Everyone thought that his righteousness would demand it of him.

But, Zed surprised everyone, and simply said that he forgave Amia as the holy scriptures said one should do. But as we all know the heart and the mind are not always in harmony, and in Zed’s heart of hearts he should could not let go of his anger and disappointment with Amia for bringing shame to his home and to his name. Whenever he thought about her, as much as he tried to forgive her, he only felt angry and began to despise her as a whore. Even he began to recognize that his forgiveness was a thin veneer for the punishing righteousness that he heaped upon her. What he really came to feel for Amia was hatred for betraying him as her faithful husband.

As life went on, over some time, Zed’s internal duplicity began to rankle his guardian angel. This angel was a wise old soul, and so each time Zed wallowed in his animosity and resentment of Amia, the angel would drop a tiny pebble into Zed’s heart. Each time a pebble dropped into his heart, Zed would feel a stab of pain. The more he hated her the more pain he felt, and the more pain he felt, the more he hated her. Soon enough, Zed’s heart grew heavy with the weight, and he now walked bent over from the waist from the weight in his heart. Zed became so weary from the pain and the weight in his heart, that he began to wish he were dead.

At that point Zed’s guardian angel, Tess, appeared to him in the image of Della Reese. Tess told him that to be healed of his heart ache, he would need magic eyes. Through those magic eyes he would be able to look back to the time before his hurt and to see Amia not as a betrayer, bur as a weak woman in need of his kindness. Through the magic of seeing through these new eyes, the pain of his old wounds might be healed.

Zed was not convinced. His righteous self said that nothing could change the past, and that Amia was guilty of betraying him. Tess agreed that the past cannot be changed, but she said, you can change how you see the past. Your vision of what happened is open to re-vision, and you can allow it to be healed through the magic eyes.

Zed was still not convinced and his hatred of Amia had become a refuge for him, but he was a desperate man, and so he asked Tess how he might look through these magic eyes. Tess said, “You only need to ask with a sincere desire to see through them, and their vision will be granted to you. Each time you see Amia through the magic eyes of understanding, one pebble will be lifted from your broken heart.”

Zed still had his doubts, but he asked for the vision of the magic eyes with all the sincerity he could muster. Tess smiled her blessing. Zed felt that he had been touched by an angel.

Over some days Amia began to change in Zed’s eyes. He began to see her as a sad woman with unmet needs rather than a heartless evil being. Zed’s vision changed and his heart began to soften as one by one each of the pebbles lifted from his heart. This took a long time, but over time Zed’s heart became softer and lighter. As these changes grew in Zed’s heart, his whole being began to change. He began to stand straighter and his countenance softened. He no longer spewed righteousness, but was less sharp than he had been. Eventually he welcomed Amia back into his heart, their hearth grew warm together and together they resumed their journey through the second season of their lives in hope and humility, together learning to temper righteousness with compassion with eyes of understanding.

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Corrie ten Boom and forgiveness

Sometimes being ordinary is enough. Sometimes being ordinary is extraordinary.

On April 15 1892, Cornelia ten Boom was born to an ordinary family in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The Ten Boom family was devoutly Christian and they were serious about putting the principles of their faith into practice. Family, friends and neighbors were always welcomed into their home and at their table. After May 1940 when the Nazi’s invaded the Netherlands and began arresting Jewish people, the Ten Boom family remained an ordinary family who welcomed family, friends and neighbors into their home and at their table. They did not discriminate based on religion. If someone came to their door, the Ten Boom family welcomed that person into their home.

So one day in 1942 a Jewish woman appeared at their door, suitcase in hand. Her husband had been arrested. Her son had gone into hiding. The police had already questioned her, and she was afraid to return home. She had heard that the ten Booms had helped other Jewish people, and so she came asking for their help. Corrie’s father Casper welcomed the woman into their home and promised to help her.

Corrie managed to acquire extra ration cards, and they became very active in the Dutch Underground, hiding Jewish families and helping them to escape to freedom.  In February 1944 a Dutch informant told the Nazi’s about the Ten Boom family’s work. Later that day the entire Ten Boom family was arrested and sent to prison. Casper, Corrie’s father died ten days later. Corrie’s brothers were released, but Corrie and her sister were to Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany. Betsie died there on December 16, 1944.  Corrie was released on December 28, 1944 through a clerical error.  Shortly after her release, all of the women in the camp were executed.

All of the Jewish people that the Ten Booms had been hiding at the time of their arrest remained undiscovered, and all but one, an older woman, survived the war.

After the war Israel honored Corrie ten Boom by naming her “Righteous Among the Nations”. She was also knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands in recognition of her work during the war. Sometimes being ordinary is indeed extraordinary

But this story that Corrie tells about her experiences after the war is what I find most extraordinary. She says that she was traveling in Germany in 1947, giving lectures on the importance of forgiveness. After one of her lectures she was approached by a man who she recognized as one of the cruelest of the guards from the Ravensbruck prison camp. She understandably felt a myriad of emotions – forgiveness not among them. Having lived all of her life as a devout Christian, Corrie did what she had done all of her life. She prayed. She took the hands of the former prison guard, and she prayed from the depth of her heart. And she found the grace to forgive him. That I find most extraordinary.

She also wrote that in her post-war experience with other victims of Nazi inhumanities, those who were able to forgive were best able to rebuild their lives.

In 1977, 85-year-old Corrie moved to Placentia, California. In 1978, she suffered two strokes, the first rendering her unable to speak, and the second resulting in paralysis. She died on her 91st birthday, 15 April 1983, after a third stroke. Corrie ten Boom was an ordinary woman who did extraordinary things. I think we can all learn a lesson or two from her – forgiveness among them.

Corrie ten Boom wrote a number of books, perhaps her most well-known book is The Hiding Place, which describes the work of her family during the war years. You should give it a read.

On Solitude and Forgiveness: imagine a world of compassion

Back at the cloister of the Sisters of Mary Magdalene, they tell a story of one of the Mothers of the Dessert (yes, I mean to have 2 ‘s’ in the word) who was living a life of prayer and solitude.  The Sisters of the Dessert committed their lives to celebrating the sweetness of all creation. In those days, the Sisters saw their cloister as a place of solitude, and as a milieu for learning and deepening respect for justice and for the dignity of all sentient beings and for the ecology which nourished and nurtures us. The good sisters also believed in teaching through their example.

According to this story, one of the Sisters had committed a fault, and a council was convened to determine what should be done. The Mother was invited to participate in the council, but she declined to go.  Eventually one of the younger Sisters came to her and said, “Mother everyone is waiting for you.”

So, the Mother got up and found a leaky water skin. She filled it to its capacity with water, and carried it to the place where the council was meeting, with the leaky spot over her left shoulder. When she got to the council, the sisters there said to her, “Mother, why are you carrying that old water skin?”

And the Mother said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them. And yet, today I am coming to judge the error of another.”

When the sisters heard this, they said no more of the fault of the young Sister, but forgave her.  The example of the Wise Mother was all the lesson they needed to be reminded that each of us is in need of forgiveness. In their solitude they learned to see themselves as they truly are, unvarnished, unadorned. In their solitude they took the time to look to their center, into their hearts and find the core of love that nurtures the soul of each of our beings.

For the Sisters of the Dessert, solitude helps them to find the place where they were balanced, gentle and caring. In their solitude they became compassionate through their realization that nothing human is alien to us. They stopped judging others, stooped evaluating themselves and became free to be compassionate.

And so the Sisters of the Cloister of Mary Magdalene practice solitude. We too might take up the practice, each of us in our own small way. Ten to twenty minutes in the morning is not an impossible pathway to solitude. Solitude can help to mould each of us into gentle, caring, forgiving people as we acknowledge our own faults and become aware of the mercy and compassion that have graced our lives. Imagine the world of peace, justice and respect for dignity we might envision and build from a place of solitude. Meditation is not just for navel gazing. It is for healing the wounds of oppression and discrimination. It is for clearing our vision and opening our hearts to the more that is possible. Imagine!

On Gandhi, Greatness and Excellence

I was going to call this “How the Readers Digest made me a Leftist” but I’m not quite sure that that is how I would describe myself. But indeed my mostly to the left (call it progressive, call it radical, call it what you like) political orientation is largely due to the Readers Digest. And yes, it is quite true that the Readers Digest is not known for being in the vanguard of politics or radical reform. But here’s my memory of how it changed my thinking.

I was a child of the 1960’s and 1970’s. That in itself says a lot, I think. So, in April 1968 I was in high school and the Readers Digest published an article about Dr. King and the Poor People’s March on Washington, DC. I read it and was taken with the clarity and courage of Dr. King. Somewhere in what I read (or in listening to others around me talk about what I had read there), I learned that Dr. King had studied the strategy and tactics of someone called Mahatma Gandhi.  This Gandhi fellow was from India and even though he was a leader in securing his country’s freedom from England, people around me then didn’t like him very much. Of course that made him an immediate hero to me. So, when I had to choose something to write about for my senior year Problems of Democracy class, Gandhi was a no brainer selection. He has been a hero of mine ever since. Well, mostly ever since. There was a period of time when I learned that even Gandhi was not an impeccable saint, and I was too through with him for having flaws. Now that I am older and have noticed a flaw or two in myself, I am much more tolerant of the imperfections in others. There are even moments when I’ve learned a bit from the flaws of others. 

So, because of the Reader’s Digest I learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and because of Dr. King I learned about Mahatma Gandhi. And eventually because of Mahatma Gandhi I learned about compassion and forgiveness – for others and maybe even for myself. So, here is a bit about Gandhi … just enough to whet your appetite for more, I hope.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, a small state in western India. Though his family was lower caste, they were also middle-class, cultured, and devoutly religious Hindus. When Gandhi was thirteen, he was married to Kasturbai, a girl of the same age – child marriages, arranged by the parents, were then the common practice in India.

While he was in school a friend convinced Gandhi that the British were able to rule India only because the British ate meat and the Hindus did not. The friend said that eating meat built strength and with strength freedom could be gained.  Gandhi and his family were strict vegetarians, and his dreams of freedom for India were strong. He struggled with this conflict, and one day, he snuck off to a secluded place with his friend who gave him some cooked goat’s meat. Gandhi disliked the taste of the meat and after he ate it he immediately became ill. He tried to eat meat again several times, but finally decided that it was not worth the guilt. He never ate meat again, and went on to work to free India with a moral strength rather than physical might.

In many ways Mohandas Gandhi was a normal teenager. There is a story that once, when he needed money, stole a bit of gold from his brother. He was overcome by guilt for his crime, and so he confessed to his father, expecting him to be angry and violent. Instead his father wept. “Those pearl drops of love cleansed my heart,” Gandhi later wrote, “and washed my sin away.” It was his first insight into the impressive psychological power of ahimsa, or nonviolence.

When he finished high school Gandhi wanted to go England where he could earn a law degree in three years. After he vowed he would not touch liquor, meat, or women, his mother gave him her blessing and his brother gave him the money. Leaving his wife and their infant son with his family in Rajkot, he sailed for England on September 4, 1888, just one month short of his nineteenth birthday. In England Gandhi was a disciplined student. He was frugal and studied hard. While in England, two English brothers asked him to study the Bhagavad Gita, a part of the sacred Hindu scriptures, with them. The Gita is a dialogue between the Hindu god Krishna and Arjuna, a warrior about to go into battle. At about the same time he was searching through the Gita, a Christian friend persuaded Gandhi to read the Bible. The New Testament, particularly Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, moved him deeply. Both sacred Hindu and Christian texts set the foundations for Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence.

Three years later, in 1891 Gandhi returned to his family at Rajkot. He reunited with his wife and son, but he was unable to earn money to support them. He was at his wits end about what to do with his life when a large Indian firm asked him to go to South Africa to assist in complex legal case in the courts there that would take about a year to resolve.  He would be paid all his expenses plus a salary. Gandhi accepted, bade his growing family farewell and in April, 1893, not yet twenty-four years old, he set sail to try his luck in South Africa.  

In South Africa Gandhi found his voice, his philosophy, and his following – but only after much struggle.  When Gandhi arrived in South Africa he had to travel across the country to Pretoria. On the journey he was beset with discrimination because he was a dark skinned man from India. The humiliations he experienced stayed with him even as he worked at resolving the case that brought him to South Africa. Gandhi also worked with the local Indians to discuss their condition. As he met with them his indignation freed him from his shyness and he made his first public speeches.  Through his repeated experiences of harassment, exclusion and discrimination he began to find his voice and his ability to speak out and protest. He formed an organization called the Natal Indian Congress to work for Indian rights in South Africa.  Gandhi liked to live simply and independently, eating mostly fresh fruits and nuts and starching his own shirts.

While he worked, his political aims continued to fuse with his spiritual and emotional life. He studied the Bhagavad Gita pasting portions of it on a wall, memorized verse after verse as he stood brushing his teeth for fifteen minutes every morning. The Gita became his guide to living and he embraced its teaching that truth could be gained only through renunciation of all possessions and all pleasures. While in South Africa, Gandhi often shuttled back and forth between Johannesburg and Durban. On one of his long train journeys he read a book called Unto This Last by John Ruskin, English author and critic. Gandhi said the book transformed his life by teaching him that the good of the individual is contained in the good of the group, that manual occupations are as valuable as intellectual ones, and that the life of the laborer–the man who works with his hands–is the only life worth living.  Immediately, Gandhi translated principle into action. At this point Gandhi’s family rejoined him. They lived as close to Ruskin’s ideal as they could, grinding the meal and baking their bread by hand.  In 1906, not quite thirty-seven years old, he took a vow of celibacy which he never broke, and the bride of his childhood, Kasturbai, relinquished the role of wife to become a devoted follower.

Now all of this sounds quite wonderful – Gandhi the man is finding himself, developing his philosophy and his leadership skills, working hard to help his fellow Indians in South Africa to secure their rights and freedoms. But – think, feminists and freedom fighters among you – all of this was quite wonderful for Mohandas Gandhi. But what about his wife and children? How  was his love for them manifest? How much attention and ‘quality time’ did this great soul devote to his wife and children? Kasturbai doesn’t seem to have a voice or vote in any of this. She is moved from wife to devoted follower in response to his acts. Hmmm… is this the only way to bring about change? Is this the necessary cost of leadership? (And yes, in fairness, please do remember that all of this is taking place in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.)

And the work went on. Gandhi comes to call his work satyagraha, a combination of two words meaning truth and force. Gandhi’s battle was to be fought with truth and love. His soldiers were to be known as satyagrahis.  In July 1914, after nearly twenty years in South Africa Gandhi returned to India having lead a movement that helped to eliminate the major grievances experienced by the Indians in that country.

Back in India Gandhi took up work for Indian independence from England. The independence campaign had thus far been waged by a small clique of upper-class intellectuals who aped the British in manners and aloofness. Gandhi saw this was a path that led nowhere. Until that time he had worn European dress; now he discarded it for the simple trousers of the peasant. Some eighty percent of his countrymen were peasants; freedom could not be won without their support. For Gandhi freedom meant not the substitution of select Hindu rulers for the Viceroy but a truly representative government. It also meant freedom from poverty, ignorance, and discrimination.

In India a religious retreat is called an ashram, and Gandhi’s cooperative community came to be known as the satyagraha ashram. But it was as political as it was religious. “Men say I am a saint losing myself in politics,” Gandhi once commented. “The fact is that I am a politician trying my hardest to be a saint.”  To the horror of orthodox Hindus he admitted into his ashram a family of untouchables, who by implacable Hindu tradition are condemned from birth as unclean and outcaste. Reforming India was as much a part of Gandhi’s program as was home rule.

From 1914 through until August 15, 1947 the struggle for India’s independence from England went on. Gandhi organized strikes and protests. The British physically attacked the protestors, passed oppressive laws; put hundreds of thousands of people in prison. The protests continued; Gandhi fasted, he traveled the country lecturing, he organized ashrams and called for civil disobedience. He worked at newspapers to educate the people about the ideals and the costs of satyagraha. Gandhi spent years in prisons where he took his spinning wheel and his writing tools, he spend days and months fasting.

 Gandhi was widely regarded as a Mahatma, a great soul, across India. Those who did not call him Mahatma often call him bapu or father. And for all of this, Gandhi was not fully the saint he strove to become. His work, his traveling, his advocacy on behalf of the poor was costly.  From about 1921 Gandhi presented himself to the public dressed only in the dhoti (loin cloth) that was worn by the poorest Indians. And yet his followers have noted that it took a lot of Indian millionaires to keep Gandhi in poverty. Gandhi worked tirelessly for the freedom and independence of all Indians. And yet he frequently left his wife and children behind as he set out on his work. Early in his adult life, he committed himself to chastity. It is said that he tested his chastity and demonstrated the strength of his commitment by sleeping in the same bed with naked young women. The appearance of these acts – feigned poverty, neglect of his family, use of others to his own ends – much of this grates on my feminist, my humane sensibilities. I want my heroes to be perfectly heroic. And yet there is so much that I have learned from Gandhi. He is a hero to me. He is also wonderfully human. He is not perfect; maybe he is even far from perfect. Yet, he has taught me about commitment to values and ideals. He has taught me about persistence. From him I learned about satyagraha. And from his imperfections I have learned to cherish the foibles of other human beings, and to open my heart with forgiveness if I will keep open my mind to learning.

The Progressive has published a wonderful biography of Gandhi, written by Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht. You can read it at http://www.progress.org/gandhi/gandhi01.htm

 Why Gandhi? Why now? I am moving ever more deeply into my second year of being retired. On occasion I think about what I have accomplished or not accomplished. On occasion I find myself thinking about greatness and how far I fell from that mark (I never wrote the text book I envisioned, even with the detailed outlines, even with the endless drafts of the first three chapters; I never achieved the rank of full professor, I never … so many things I never). I find myself thinking about excellence, and there I might actually judge myself a bit less harshly (I do believe that I was a reasonable good teacher, with a solid command of my subject; I think I may have touched a life or two for the better). So, early in my retirement, early in my 60th decade, I find myself thinking about greatness and excellence, and wondering about how they are defined. And in all of my feminist arrogance, I find myself challenging working societal definitions, and wondering, what would greatness look like if its definition were wrested from power and grounded in love?

What do greatness and excellence look like to you? Who are some of the heroes in your life? How do you judge the consistency of their lives and their actions?

What are you committed to? What do you struggle and strive for? What compromised have you made in your commitments and values?

What would greatness and excellence look like in a world where there justice, fairness and human dignity were fully respected? What would greatness and excellence look like in a world of compassion, generosity, patience, diligence, wisdom, loving kindness and joy?

Hanging by a spider thread

As with all good stories, once upon a time in a place very near to your heart, the mother of all wisdom was walking in her garden enjoying the flowers when she looked over the cliff and saw Melissa, one of her daughters struggling in the depths of hell. This young soul (we are all young souls to the great mother), this young soul had been an assassin, an arsonist, a burglar and generally an all around criminal. A lifetime of lawless actions put her in hell, where she was in the company of others much like her.  

The mother of all wisdom looked deeply into Melissa’s life and saw a moment where the woman had come upon a spider. She had raised her foot to stomp on the spider, but then she had remembered a story one of her teachers told in class about how the Native Americans honored spider woman as one of the world’s creators. At that one moment, Melissa smiled to herself, and thought, “maybe this spider is a descendant of the first spider woman.” And so, the woman picked up the spider and moved it to a safer place.   

Seeing this one act of kindness, the mother of all wisdom took a spider thread and lowered it into the depths of hell with the intention of saving Melissa. 

Melissa saw the thread, reached for it, and found it strong enough to hold her weights. Using all of her strength she began to life herself from hell.  As she was making some progress, she looked down and saw hundreds of others behind her climbing up on the same spider thread.  Melissa looked back and yelled, “Get off! This is my thread.” And looked down and shook the thread to dislodge the others, the thread broke and Melissa fell back into hell.

This story also kind of reminds me of the story about fear, generosity and spoons with long handles. I guess a world of justice and respect will include forgiveness and second chances and openness to community, which by its nature requires forgiveness and second chances. People! community! it can be a pain to live with them, and you can’t live without them. … forgiveness and second chances. Somedays it really does seem that we are all just hangin by by a spiders thread!

Gifts: to accept or not to accept that is a question; and The Gift of Insults

The sagas and myths associated with Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido are legend. I’m not sure that this particular one is attributed to him in particular, but it is a bit of a classic Zen story that could be about him. Or it could be about you …

Once upon a time, there lived a great warrior. Even when the warrior was quite elderly, no one was able to best the fighter, every challenger was defeated.  The reputation of this great sensei extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study in the dojo.

One day an infamous young warrior arrived at the dojo. He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his strength, the stranger had a unique ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would watch and wait for his opponent to make the first move. In that first move, weaknesses were revealed, and the stranger would then strike mercilessly with both speed and force. He would dance like a butterfly and sting like a scorpion.  He would poke and jab and taunt and test. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move.

When the stranger challenged the great master, the old master gladly and graciously accepted, much to the concern of the students in the dojo. As the two squared off for battle, the young warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in the face of the master. For hours he verbally assaulted the sensei with every curse and insult known to humanity. But the sensei stood calmly, motionless waiting. Finally, the young warrior exhausted himself. He recognized and acknowledged his defeat and left feeling shamed.

Somewhat disappointed that no blows were exchanged with the insolent youth, the students gathered around the old master and asked “How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?”

“If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it,” the master replied, “to whom does the gift belong?”

Hmm …  everyone is a teacher. Everything offer to us, everything hurled at us is a gift. It is always and everywhere our choice as to whether and how we will accept the gift.

 

Forgiveness, humor and Ms. Neely-Templeton

In other blog entries I have written about the importance of forgiveness and a sense of humor.  This story adds longevity to the mix … In my dreams about what a world that was structured to uphold social justice and that honored human rights, women like the one in this story would hold a very special place.  Indeed, we all should live so long as to be this kind of lady!

So, while I’m not much of a church going soul these days, once upon a time in another time and universe, one Sunday I found myself in one of the local churches – I was kind of drawn to it as the Café I set off for was closed, and the bill board said the talk (homily?) was about forgiveness – so I though, what the ‘h’ I’ll see what she has to say.  So, the good reverend launched into her talk and reminded everyone about the new testament invocation to forgive those who you think have wronged you seven times seventy times – a nice reminder I thought.  Then as she was pulling things together, she asked the congregation for a show of hands: “How many of you can say that you have forgiven at least most of your enemies?”

 Fortunately for me, I was sitting in the back, so I could see that nearly two thirds of the good folks in the church raised their hands. The minister then rephrased her question and asked, “How many of you can say that you want to forgive your enemies?”

 To that question I could see that the entire congregation gladly raised their hands, all but one gracious, elegantly poised lady sitting in the very front of the church. Well, I settled back in my seat and thanked the sweet goddess that I live in Milford, confident in the knowledge that if I mess up, the odds are pretty good that I can hope to be pardoned by my neighbors – all but one apparently!

The minister smiled a wry little grin and asked, “Ms. Neely-Templeton, do you mean that you are not willing to forgive you enemies?”
 
“Good, Reverend Pastor, I just don’t have any enemies to forgive,” she replied, smiling sweetly.

“Ms. Neely-Templeton, that is remarkable. And, how old are you?”

“Ninety-eight,” she replied. As if we were one, everyone in the congregation – I will confess to it, even me – we all stood up and clapped our hands with awe and respect and the generous, compassionate heart that this woman must have been nurturing all her years.  It just nearly brought tears to my eyes.

“Ms. Neely-Templeton, would you please stand up and tell us all how a person can live ninety-eight years and not have an enemy in the world? What is your secret for forgiveness?”

With all of her poise, grace and elegance, Ms. Neely-Templeton stood up, smiled warmly at the minister, turned to face the congregation, and said, “I just outlived the sons-a-bitches.”

 I left church that day with a radiant smile on my face and glowing warmth in the very depths of the cockles of my heart. In my world of justice and human rights, there will be a lot of folks just like Ms. Neely-Templeton.