Sunday, 6 April 2014

More on forgiveness and the perfect Lent book

Forgiveness has been a theme of the weekend. A very interesting conversation in Leicester Square on Friday afternoon.
And then the end of The Railway Man - which is very hard to read without tears. Eric Lomax forgave his torturers. I cannot believe it. But it took him time. He also said that he could never forget.
B. on Friday afternoon said that forgiveness isn't as easy as all that. It involves talking to the person involved and understanding - really understanding, not just making a token, emotional gesture. (Forgiveness is something we should aspire to. Of course. For some of us, it's the most difficult thing.)
Prisoner at Changi POW camp, Singapore

In the final pages of The Railway Man Lomax writes about forgiving someone involved in his torture in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp in Singapore for making a crude radio.
It is the most appropriate read for Lent that I can imagine. He forgives a man who was involved in torture aimed  at breaking him to the point of death: torture so vile that 50 years on the torturer is still physically affected by the memory.
Lomax  is - almost miraculously - able to meet the man (called Ngase) and come to terms with what happened. It is - as my friend B said on Friday afternoon - a progression. It takes time - from the moment that he realised he had found his tormentor to feelings of rage and hatred - then a maelstrom of thoughts of what to do. Revenge, or a meeting? He finally travelled to Singapore to meet Ngase and talk to him.

"He looked up at me; he was trembling, in tears, saying over and over 'I am very, very sorry...'
They returned to the place they first met - the camp now built over with new housing. They visited war memorials.  Then they flew to Osaka to visit Ngase's home.
Then Lomax so touchingly - forever mindful of procedure - decided that some kind of formal gesture of forgiveness was needed and visited him for a final time in Tokyo, in his hotel room: 'I had decided to give him a piece of paper which I thought would meet both our needs...'
"I read my short letter out to him, stopping and checking that he understood each paragraph. I felt he deserved this careful formality. In the letter I said that the war had been over for almost fifty years; that I had suffered much; and that I knew that although he too had suffered throughout this time, he had been most courageous and brave in arguing against militarism and working for reconciliation. I told him that while I could not forget what happened in Kanbury in 1943, I assured him of my total forgiveness.
He was overcome with emotion again, and we spent some time in his room talking quietly and without haste."
Just how Lomax summoned such humanity - I don't know.Reading of it touches me to the core, though.

Reading and watching

  • Foot by Foot to Santiago de Compostela/Judy Foot
  • The Testament of Mary with Fiona Shaw at the Barbican
  • The Testament of Mary/Colm Toibin
  • Schwanengesang/Schubert - Tony Spence
  • Journals/Robert Falcon Scott
  • Fugitive Pieces/Ann Michaels
  • Unless/Carol Shields
  • Faust/Royal Opera House
  • The Art of Travel/Alain de Botton
  • Mad Men Series 6
  • A Week at The Airport/Alain de Botton
  • The Railway Man/Eric Lomax
  • Bright Lights, Big City/Jay McInerney
  • Stones of Venice/John Ruskin
  • The Sea, the Sea/Iris Murdoch
  • Childe Harold/Lord Byron
  • All The Pretty Horses/Cormac McCarthy
  • Extreme Rambling/Mark Thomas
  • Story of my Life/Jay McInerney
  • Venice Observed/Mary McCarthy