I published this post back in April of 2005. It just seems appropriate for me to republish it today.
In one of my recent Tom Peters-induced Amazon sprees, I also picked up a DVD copy of the Eagles, Hell Freezes Over concert replacing our old VHS. I’ve been a fan since I saw them as the opening act for Procul Harem in the early 70’s.
Imbi and I were struck again by the power and melancholy of Don Henley’s The Heart of the Matter. In fact, we played the song over a couple of times;
I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness, forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore
These times are so uncertain,there’s a yearning undefined
And people filled with rage
We all need a little tenderness, how can love survive
In such a graceless age?
The trust and self-assurance that lead to happiness
They’re the very things – we kill, I guess
Pride and competition cannot fill these empty arms
And the work I put between us, you know it doesn’t keep me warm
– Don Henley, Mark Campbell, J.D. Souther
Thinking of forgiveness reminded me of something Imbi and I witnessed a number of years ago.
We were returning from a conference in Las Vegas. At the Toronto airport, we walked most of the way from the arrivals gate to customs behind a rather short fellow. He was decked out in his particular Lost Wages garb; cowboy boots, cowboy hat, leather vest, tight jeans and a swagger – cocky and self-assured, at least for the moment.
He strode up to the counter in front of us and handed his papers to the customs officer. The officer looked at the papers and then quickly looked back at him. Something changed in the atmosphere. Imbi and were now paying attention as he asked the little man an odd question – ‘did you go to such-and-such high school‘. Still cocky, the little man responded, ‘why, yes I did‘.
The officer looked at him for an abnormal length of time. And then he quietly asked a chilling question, “You don’t remember me do you?”
The little man finally awakened to the atmospheric change and stammered, “Ah, umm, no I, ah, don’t.”
“You don’t remember dealing with me everyday?”
The little man seemed to grow smaller as the officer continued, “You don’t remember taking my lunch every day for a year?”
His voice trembled in response, “Ah, no I’m, ah, sorry. I don’t remember. Really, ah, I’m really sorry…” The officer was writing something on the customs card, ignoring the response. Then he looked at the little man for a moment, said nothing and handed him the customs card. We couldn’t see what was scrawled on the card as the little man slunk away.
The officer seemed preoccupied when we stepped up to the desk. He did his task with a perfunctory air, quickly handed us back our customs cards and we were on our way. I did notice a little smile curling at the corner of his mouth. The next official, gatekeeper to baggage or customs inspection, took our card from us, checked what was scrawled on it, then waved us into the baggage area – where the little man was no where to be seen.
A true story. With many questions raised. What kind of damage was done to the customs officer as a young student – many of us can attest to our own scars from bullying. Had he carried the pain and shame from this experience up to the moment we’d just witnessed? Had he longed for revenge? Or had he forgiven the man long ago and was only reminded of his experience when he saw him again?
My hope is that it was the latter but I have my doubts. And I wish I’d asked the customs officer the question.
Someone very close to me had a truly wicked stepmother. And although this woman only had a few years of actual access to my friend – my friend dealt with the emotional baggage from the experience for the rest of her life. She dreamt about how she’d been mistreated every night and in those dreams relived the loss of her own mother. Up until she got to the heart of the matter – forgiveness.
This wonderful woman, who raised her own kids with incredible love and was loved by every kid she ever met – met the One who had loved her from before she was born. And her immediate response was forgiveness. The dreams were gone. And with their flight a minor miracle – the arthritis that had plagued her for years was reduced dramatically.
It really is about forgiveness – the heart of the matter.