Marion Dane Bauer’s post with a quote from Dag Hammarskjöld reminded me that I once had a copy of Markings but lost it somewhere along my life’s meanderings. Here is that collection of journal entries in a newer edition whose title, Waymarks, is a literal translation of the original Swedish title, Vägmärken.
Hammarskjöld died in 1961, in a plane crash in Ndola in present-day Zambia (then northern Rhodesia). Recently, the United Nations called for a renewed investigation into the crash. Zambian charcoal burners worked in the forest near the airport that night. Some of them have long maintained that they saw another plane and that it fired at Hammarskjöld’s aircraft, causing it to plunge to the ground. The UN panel appointed for the inquiry has been denied access, on grounds of security, to classified materials held by the UK and USA. On that plane trip, Hammarskjöld was translating the philosopher Martin Buber’s I and Thou into English.
Several of the waymarks touch on the notion of forgiveness. Here’s one:
“To forgive oneself ” –? No, that isn’t possible: we must be forgiven. But we can believe in forgiveness only if we ourselves forgive.
And here is another:
Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality through the fact that the one who “forgives” — in love — takes upon himself the responsibility for the consequences of what you did. It therefore always involves sacrifice.
Powerful, searching words, words from a man who thought deeply about “I” and “Thou” in manifestations from the personal to the universal. Who died too young, too soon. A final waymark on what forgiveness might mean to children, something I have been thinking about as I delve into a novel that has been in the works for far too long, a story that is teaching me hard lessons about how much the passage of time has changed me and how little I still know. Here you go. Hammarsjöld on forgiveness as felt by children.
Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of the miracle through which that which is torn is once again whole and that which is soiled is still clean.
It is the unmaking of conflict, of illwill, of terrible mistakes. But that’s just a childhood fantasy, isn’t it? A dream that we must give up as we get older and realize just how far short we are of the wisdom that years are supposed to confer.
As always I turn to picture books for answers. Here is one from Enchanted Lion Press that holds a small key to my heart on this subject. This nearly-wordless book raises many questions about friendship and trust and loneliness, but at its most dramatic turning point it seems to ask: What’s the point? Must we heal each other only to reinforce our ultimate loneliness in the world? Turn the pages with that aching question and suddenly forgiveness becomes implicit in a single moment of redemption. It makes whole again that which was once torn. The new whole is not unscarred, necessarily, because it’s informed by experience. But whole it is.
It’s a remarkable understanding, at once intellectually vast and emotionally child-sized.