How Pete Seeger Taught Me about Forgiveness

[Note: The following essay first appeared as a blog post on Not Dark Yet at http://notdarkyet-commentary.blogspot.com/2012/02/how-pete-seeger-taught-me-about.html]

How Pete Seeger Taught Me about Forgiveness
By Charles Kinnaird

I clearly remember the catalyst that moved me to grant forgiveness in my heart. That catalyst came in a single day through two separate NPR broadcasts back in April of 1995. It was on a Good Friday. At noontime I was listening to a portion of a Good Friday service being broadcast on the radio while I was in my car while running some errands. Two of the people reading scripture and offering commentary were Martin Luther King, Jr.’s son (Martin Luther King III) and the Methodist minister from Piedmont, Alabama (Kelly Clem) whose young daughter had been killed in church the year before when a tornado struck. I don’t remember who said what, but I remember the message that came across – that there are times when we suffer losses and times when we must forgive those who have wronged us. At the forefront of my thoughts was my own need to forgive that person who had betrayed me some four years earlier.

Later that day, I was driving home, again listening to NPR – this time it was the “All Things Considered” news broadcast. Burl Ives had died and they were interviewing folk singer Pete Seeger, talking about Burl Ives’ life. Pete Seeger made the comment that when he thought of Burl Ives, he thought of that clear, strong, beautiful voice of his. The interviewer wanted to probe more deeply into Seeger’s thoughts. What about that time during the McCarty Red Scare, when there were hearings in Washington, D.C. before the House Committee on Un-American Activities? Burl Ives had testified before the committee, exonerating himself and implicating Pete Seeger, resulting in Seeger being blacklisted along with other folk singers of the day. Seeger’s career was severely affected by that awful reactionary time. Seeger’s response to the interviewer was, “Sometimes you just have to forgive and move on with your life.” He spoke with such conviction and serenity. I was moved by that interview. I said to myself, “If Pete Seeger can forgive Burl Ives, then I can forgive ______.”

It didn’t happen in an instant, but I made that my discipline for the Easter season that year. I know that my own health and well being were positively affected by my move to forgive and get on with my life. I should hasten to add that this lesson is not a one time thing. Since that day, there have been other occasions where I have struggled to forgive and move on.

I should also add that I have at times been the one who needed to be forgiven. Furthermore, I have no doubt that because of the nature of human interaction, there have been people who have had to forgive me for things I was not even aware of doing. Living with others always leads to hurt and offense. If we are aware, we sometimes realize the hurt we have inflicted and can ask forgiveness. Other times, we are not aware until it is brought to our attention. There are still other times when, just as we must forgive and move on, someone else finds the grace to forgive us and move on – even when we are too blind to realize the hurt that we caused.

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