“Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.” by Catherine Fairbairn
Spirited Reflection — Sunday, August 17, 2014
Sister Catherine Fairbairn, GSIC, taught English literature for 30 years and researched and wrote a Social Justice Network paper for 14 years. She is now living in her community’s retirement home in Pembroke.
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
As I look around our world today so filled with hate, revenge, violence and conflict, it is hard to imagine people who live lives totally dedicated to forgiveness of the enemy, lives dedicated to the pursuit of peace and non-violence. Yet, there are some who do – and some who, like Martin Luther King Jr., Yitzhak Rabin, and Anwar Sadat – paid the price of their convictions with their lives.
The world was stunned at how the Amish community in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, could forgive the man who, on October 2 in 2006, gunned down 10 of their young girls, killing five of them, ages 7 to 13. On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the girls killed warned young relatives not to hate the killer. What the Amish asked for was prayers for the families of the slain girls and for the wife and three children of the shooter. Their response to such loss and profound anguish challenged me to look at myself, and how I would live up to Christ’s command if I were in their shoes. It was a powerful response to ‘forgive your enemies’ (Luke 6:27) that shocked a world characterized by so much hate and violence.
In the midst of the terrible conflict going on now in the Middle East, I think of Izzeldin Abuelaish, the Palestinian doctor who worked in hospitals in both Gaza and Israel. He knows that “violence begets violence and breeds more hatred” and he refuses to hate. His three beautiful daughters were blown up when two Israeli rockets were fired into their second floor apartment during the Gaza war of 2008 and 2009. Yet in his unimaginable grief and suffering and his frantic effort to get his other daughter and her cousin, badly injured, over the blockaded border to the Israeli hospital where he worked, he still refused to hate. Dr. Abuelaish dedicated his life before and after the death of his daughters to medicine and improving relations between the Israeli and Palestinian people.
Marek Glazerman, a leading Israeli doctor who wrote the introduction to Izzeldin’s book, I Shall Not Hate, articulates what all must wonder: “Having lost three daughters, how can he still speak about love and peace and keep his Israeli friends?” The answer lies in the words he wrote in his book: “If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, then I would accept their loss … what we need is respect [for each other] and the inner strength to refuse to hate. Then we will achieve peace”.
So many people across our world who have stood up for peace in times of conflict have been assassinated by those who hate and chose violence as a means to their end. However, I believe that the majority of people, especially the ordinary people who do not make the decisions, want to live in peace. What mother, what father wants to see their children killed in war or conflict? And what of those sons and daughters who are sent to fight and are killed or return scarred for life by the experience.
When I taught English literature to a class of mainly 16 or 17 year old young men, I chose All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, a young German man who was conscripted and went unwillingly to the Western Front in World War I. His terrible experience of the realities of war left an indelible mark on his life which is reflected in his book.
Remarque writes about a group of young German soldiers fighting in the trenches. When Paul, the main character of the novel, kills a French soldier, he utters the following words after viewing the soldier’s wallet:
“Comrade, I did not want to kill you. … But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. … I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils just like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony – Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?”
I find this passage one of the most moving in all the literature I have taught. It is a powerful commentary on the truth that we are all human beings joined to one another by our common humanity. Remarque, through this character, differentiates between the ‘we’ and the ‘they’ –those in the trenches and those who ordered them there. It is leaders who make war – it is ordinary men and women and their families who suffer the gravest consequences of their decisions.
Imagine a world where people finally saw that their ‘enemy’ was a person just like them, who had a mother and father, siblings, a wife and children as you did; who were waiting, as your family did, for you to come home. Imagine a world where people finally saw that their ‘enemies’ were innocent civilians, children, women and men who did not espouse violence but suffered destruction and death, caught between the opposing forces.
As the violence and hate in our world escalates, may we all pray for peace in our own hearts, for attitudes that promote peace, for hearts open to see our common humanity as children of God in whose image each of us is created. And may the leaders of countries have the wisdom and humanity to know that there will never be peace without justice.