In Your Face: forgiveness is hard work

25 Apr

In today’s newspaper is the story of a young man who was injured in a fight in a pub. The leg of a chair was embedded in his face, right next to his nose. The picture is horrific.
After amazing surgery to re-construct his face, the 20 year old now speaks of forgiving the person  who did this to him. ‘Honestly, I forgive the bloke,’ he said to the newspaper, ‘in a quiet, deliberate tone’.
The story tells something of what hard work forgiveness really is. That is, real forgiveness is not easy. It is hard work: not once, but in an ongoing way.

Here is some of the story, from The Age newspaper, of April 25th:

"It doesn’t bother me, what he did to me. But I’m very, very
upset at him for the way he tore (at) my family and friends …
They got hurt big-time."

Mr Fahkri (the victim) was saved by surgeons at the Royal Melbourne Hospital
after the spearing of his face. At first glance today, one would
barely believe that he had suffered such a horrific blow. His face
bears only a small scar, below his eye. Astoundingly, his vision is
almost 95 per cent complete.

Despite the visible progress, Mr Fahkri’s recovery —
following a delicate, three-hour operation — is far from
complete.

"I’m still seeing doctors, trying to get my sight better, my
neck better, basically make my body stronger. I can’t run at the
moment, and I’m feeling very weak," he says. Months, or even years,
of rehabilitation remain. A sadness lingers in his face.

One promising sign is that Mr Fahkri — whose father owns a
number of pubs — has returned to socialising, though not
without wariness. On Saturday, he visited one of his father’s pubs,
the Cornish Arms in Brunswick.

"When I’m at my father’s pubs, I feel much safer than at other
pubs, because I have my sister, my brothers, my cousins and family
friends working. They’re looking out for me," he said.

At other pubs, he said: "I think a lot. ‘Will there be trouble
tonight? I hope there isn’t trouble.’ Stuff like that."

Mr Fahkri pays tribute to the hospital, his family and his
friends — notably his childhood mate, Northern Bullants
footballer Bronik Davies — for their support. Though he
remains unable to work, he maintains his dream of operating the
Cornish Arms.

Of Peart (the man who threw the chair), Mr Fahkri said: "I hope he does well in his life. But
if I saw him walking down the street, I wouldn’t say ‘Hi’ to
him."

This is a remarkable story. To begin with, I am just astonished at what has been achieved by the surgeons.
But then I find myself thinking about the process of forgiveness.
Clearly, this young man has realized that bitterness will not do him any good. In fact, the person it would most hurt is himself. To carry a grudge is a heavy load, which will wear him down. He already has enough to deal with!
But then, also, I notice the role of his friends and family, in enabling him to return—slowly, but genuinely—to some kind of normality. His family and his friend help him to feel safe. Together they are supporting him in finding a new beginning. No doubt, while he is unable to work, their practical support is crucial as well.
A third thing to notice is the limitation Mr Fahkri expresses: there is no pretence that if he met Mr Peart they would suddenly be great friends. The work of forgiveness takes a long, long time.
Paul Fiddes has helpfully written of forgiveness as a journey, in his book Past Event and Present Salvation. Mr Fahkri is already a long way down that journey, but there is further to go. There is no value in pretending that he has already arrived at a situation where ‘all is roses’. That would simply be unreal.

Two further things strike me about this story.
First: How true it is, when in John’s Gospel, chapter 20, verse 23, Jesus says: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ Here is the suggestion that we do actually have the capacity to make forgiveness real, for each other. This is probably especially intended to be a collective or group experience: people can find forgiveness within a community or group which practices this work of grace. And it is also true that if the group with-holds that forgiveness, not matter how much a person might believe or hope that it is so, they will not really experience it. I am sure these dynamics are very, very common. I think this is true in the churches, where people speak of forgiveness, but as a friend of mine once said: ‘you are all such guilty people’.
Even more amazing, then, is the reality of God’s forgiveness, which goes the whole journey.
In the Gospel stories, God does meet with the guilty person and does say ‘Hi.’
This is costly, hard work. It is in your face. It takes time, and it hurts. Somehow, there is grace which makes this hard work possible.
I am greatly encouraged and challenged by the story of Mr Fahkri. I am not at all sure that I would be half as gracious as he is. I hope that he will soon be able to resume work, and a greater degree of freedom. I hope, too, that he will continue to be such a gracious and generous person.

One thought on “In Your Face: forgiveness is hard work

  1. Frank, I read the same story and was similarly moved by it. Forgiveness is never as straight forward as it’s made out to be in the Sunday School stories, is it? This story illustrates that quite beautifully.
    By the way, I love the new look!

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