Forget and Forgive? Towards two Decades of healing scars

Bad news, we can’t forget but the good news is that we can forgive.

One of the common questions asked is how one can forgive yet remember or whether it is possible for one to forget in order to forgive. At this point my answer will be NO and NEVER.

So often we tend to forget good things (good event and good people), but memories of painful events or people who have hurt us are always remembered frequently with pain. It is even more difficult in the cases involved hatred and extreme violence such as genocide. Most of us desire that we can forget what had happened, because it is too painful, but our brains are very far from doing that. We still remember all people and their faces; angry, miserable and fearful faces. We remember events that kept us awake day and night. We remember the cries of babies, mothers and fathers pleading for mercy. We remember rivers of bloods of our people. We remember dishonesties and discontents. Some of us remember hoping to meet our families and hug them, and talk to them, instead found their bodies in silence, eaten by dogs and birds of the air.

People say, with time, wounds heal, emotional scars and pain fades away, although that may be true, we can never forget. But we remember in a different perspective, not in vengeance not in backsliding but in a healing way for there we can pull our strength to carry on. One author (Volf 2006) argues that how we remember matters more than what we remember.

There are at least two general stumbling blocks to the healing process and forgiveness: 1) most of us think and know that since we still remember, there is no way we can forgive. Actually trying to forget is a denial. I would say, don’t even try to force yourself to forget because the more you will try to forget the more you will remember and the more hurt it will be. Very often we increase our suffering by denial and resistance to accept what is really happening. This includes the grieving process. But until I am able to think critically with all bitter memories that I have, forgiveness will not be possible. Experts say forgiveness has nothing to do with the offender. Forgiveness is about me/ the victim. This truth takes me to the second point.

2) Some of us think that forgiveness is a favor to the offender. ‘With the pain that the offender has caused, the last thing to be granted is forgiveness’, whether they have apologized or not. But we have no control over other people’s behavior or choice, we can’t force them to apologize, we can’t change what they did or might do, but we have control over our feelings and what we can do about them. Most people I have forgiven are still making me offended. Yes I have forgiven you but you still make me cry. Maybe it should be known that the offender does not deserve forgiveness but I, the victim, do deserve it. And that makes sense if I should move on. If one does not learn to forgive, then it’s like giving the one who caused pain to hurt you again and again as long as the pain still is indisputable. One thing I tell myself is that there is no future in the past so why dwell on it.

In the case of Rwandans, it still is a struggle for many, many of whom are orphans, many of whom are widows and many of whom are living with HIV as a result of the genocide. It is actually not only a struggle but also a traumatic experience. Research conducted in 2009 reveals that, at the international level, Rwanda has the highest number of traumatized people 28.5% followed by Kosovo 24% where people over the age of 16 are faced by trauma due to the pain and desperation from the genocide. Experts in trauma studies explain that this does not go in vain, it usually goes with too much pain and desperation with possible suicidal attempts.

Being a process there is no prescription for how long forgiveness might take or how long it should take. As much as healing and rebuilding is important, it is a course of action. Most of the time it is ups and downs, we should admit that forgiveness is the hardest but the most rewarding thing to do. Yes, the pain will fade, but the memory will remain. As Desmond Tutus says; without memory, there can be no healing, without memories there can be no forgiveness and without forgiveness, there can be no future (Desmond Tutu). Even though we can’t forget, but we can forgive. “Our memories may live in us, but they are no longer occupying us; they may cause pain but they no longer exhaustively define us. We are more than what we have suffered. Our memories provide power to board into a journey of reconciliation” (Volf 2006). The hope for Rwanda is that the majority are on board for forgiveness and reconciliation.

With fellow Rwandans we are the most appropriate to tell and probably challenge the agonies of life, because like a song sound, we are fruits of blessings grown from the discomfort tree. We shall offer love because we know how much effort there is in search for love, we can comfort because we know what discomfort is, and we can advocate unity because we know the cost of divisionism. We have a story that makes one stand and move forward, there is no reason to define ourselves as victims and no one should have the power to define us as different.

As President Paul Kagame says “We cannot turn the clock back nor can we undo the harm caused, but we have the power to determine the future and to ensure that what happened will never happen again” (P.Kagame).