Forgiveness

Back in the 70’s, I decided to purchase some shares of stock of a local bank that was expanding. Because of the number I bought, I was elected to serve on the Board of Directors. It was quite interesting; me being in my mid 20’s and young enough to be the son of any of the other Board members. As a new member, I initially did what I was brought up to do, and that was to listen, especially to those who are older who had more experience.

As the years went by and my confidence increased, I began to express opinions on various issues, including potential loans that needed Board approval. There was this one specific loan that the Bank Board Chairman and I had differing opinions. We had been quite friendly before this incident, but the unpleasantness of the disagreement led to the demise of our friendship. Unfortunately, this contention became an issue and when election time came around, he was not reelected to the Board.

Some years later, a good friend, Schroe, asked me if I would be interested in joining the Rotary Club of Gainesville. This club was (and still is) the largest Rotary Club in Gainesville and a great place to make contacts. I accepted his invitation and completed my application of which Schroe submitted to the Rotary Board.

A few weeks later, I was told that one Rotarian objected to my application. I found this to be quite puzzling as I felt I was a respected member of the community! Who in the world would have a problem with my membership in a service club?! Of course, it turned out to be the former Bank Board Chairman (BBC).

I explained to Schroe what happened between the BBC and myself and that the issue was of management styles and not of any ‘wrong’ doing on anyone’s part. He passed this information along to the Rotary Board, who accepted my explanation and approved my application for membership.

As the years passed, I would occasionally see the BBC at Rotary meetings and we would just pass each other by with no acknowledgement of the other’s existence. I figured I’d just ignore him and thus, wouldn’t have to deal with him.

Then in January of 2000, my friend Schroe came to me with an interesting proposition. “There’s a group of us going to Honduras to rebuild houses for hurricane victims, and we have an opening,” said Schroe. “Your building skills would be such a valuable asset to the project and I’d love for you to go.”

Schroe then told me about the hardships facing the Hondurans as they tried to rebuild after Hurricane Mitch. This hurricane struck Central America, leaving more than 11,000 people dead, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes and causing more than $5 billion in damages. At the time, it was reported to be the deadliest hurricane to hit the Western Hemisphere in more than 200 years.

Even though I hadn’t done a trip like this before, after hearing Schroe outline the trip, deep down I knew I really wanted to go. So I signed up.

A few weeks later, our team of volunteers met to load our gear into a van and head to the airport. And guess who was in the van?! BBC!

Wow! How was this going to play out? We hadn’t spoken in more than 20 years!

At first, I was not happy about this development. Did I really want to spend two weeks with someone I wasn’t even speaking to? But just as quickly, I banished that thought from my mind and decided 20 years was long enough not to at least say a ‘hello’ to someone. So, I swallowed my pride and extended a hand. We shook hands, said a lack luster “good morning” and that was that.

At the worksite in Honduras, I often found BBC and myself working in the same proximity, sometimes literally side by side. As the days went on I saw firsthand how hard he was working even though he was a number of years older than everyone else on the trip. I thought to myself, “A man who helps others with this kind of effort and care is someone I want as a friend.” At that moment, I let go of the past, pushed down my ego, opened my heart, and showed him love and respect.

And wonder upon wonders; he reciprocated. I would take him a bottle of water, and he would enthusiastically thank me. He accepted my efforts to reach out and over the remainder of the mission trip, he extended acts of kindness to me as well.

When we returned from Honduras, the friendship continued. When we worked on other projects together or saw each other at Rotary or other events, we always met with a hearty handshake and a very warm greeting - often embracing. And, this friendship was better and deeper than the one we’d had years before. Not too many years later, BBC passed away. I had the honor to serve as the chaplain at his funeral which touched me greatly. As I participated in his funeral service, I felt so grateful for our mission trip of service together, knowing that it helped us make amends and become friends again before it was too late.

There is a power in forgiveness. Think about it this way – before the Honduras trip, I’d walk into Rotary and feel angst if BBC and I were in the same vicinity. Once we became friends again, I had the freedom to walk into my Rotary Club and be in complete peace and happy to see him. This quote by Lewis B. Smedes says it all, “To forgive is to set the prisoner free, and realize the prisoner was you.”

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