Still wrestling with the forgiveness question.
Sitting here listening to the statement read by Tsarnaev at his sentencing this afternoon apologizing to the dozen or more victims and survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing who chose to give victim impact statements. And to the lengthy responses of some of them to reporters outside the courthouse. (The court proceedings are neither televised nor broadcast.)
They expressed anger, disgust, dismissal, rejection of his contrition and apology. In their statements they told of their continuing struggles with the losses they suffered, the death of loved ones, or their own loss of limbs, hearing, partial sight, continuing trauma and more. Their lives will certainly never be the same.
While we in the general public have had two years to learn about many of those lives and their stories, I will admit that the immediate horror for me was hearing the description of the judge imposing the death penalty.
No one even brought up the concept of forgiveness. I am all the more uneasy about the Charleston professions of forgiveness to the disembodied video feed of the murderer less than 72 hours after the massacre. Yes, I understand how offering forgiveness might open a path to moving forward, but I’m thinking two things at the moment.
One is that, while people should certainly be open to expressing a religious sentiment wherever they wish, perhaps the spiritual task of letting go of the burden of hatred deserves a sacred space rather than a courthouse.
The other is that I just can’t get past the dynamic of black people forgiving racist murder, at all, but particularly before the bodies of their slaughtered parents and children have even been buried. A courtroom full of white people of all religious persuasions stood able to move through horror and begin to reclaim their lives without taking responsibility for the perp’s soul. Immediate forgiveness just does not feel to me to be the act of a free person. It feels like a theological construct that removes some of the agency of righteous rage that fights off helpless despair and depression. Perhaps it is a way of repudiating the devil and all his works, an act intended to reduce and marginalize the psychic hold of the killer on their minds. I get that. But I wonder, not standing in their shoes, if I could bear the bitterness, the ashes, of those words in my mouth.
The grace of forgiveness might or might not enter into the hearts of some of those in the Boston court today. Some might even choose to invite it. To assume they are called to that goal seems an added burden.