So many of us struggle to let go of grievances; she did this; he said that; she didn’t do this; he failed to say that. We hold grudges, turning a blind eye to the affects our deep-rooted resentments have on our lives and the lives of those around us. We justify our unhappiness and hold others accountable for the way we feel; if only he’d change, if only she hadn’t treated me that way, if only my circumstances were different – then my life would be so much happier. But when we view life through the lens of non-forgiveness – we give our power away. We become powerless.
Here, I tell the true story of a brave woman named Satta Joe; a story of immense courage and forgiveness. Satta lived in Sierra Leone during the civil war, a time of great upheaval and uncertainty. When the rebels attacked Satta’s village, she became the victim of gang rape. Her husband was shot dead and her seven year old son slaughtered before her very eyes. Curled up in a broken heap on the floor with her newborn child, Satta was left for dead.
The man who had led the attack was Nyuma Saffa, a blood relative of Satta’s who had once tried to force his love upon her. Fueled by his grievance over Satta’s rejection and by his new allegiance to the rebels, he unleashed his attack upon Satta and her family.
Once the civil war had ended, the rebels returned to live in the village. Satta recalls feeling powerless: This was very hard for me, but what was I to do? And that’s when Fambul Tok (Family Talk) arrived, a community led reconciliation program. They called for a meeting in the village and asked for those who had experienced suffering during the war to speak up. Satta bravely stepped forward and told her story. Fambul Tok then asked that Nyuma Saffa come forward to admit his crimes against Satta and her family. Finally, he confessed.
As part of the reconciliation ritual, Satta and Nyuma were asked to dance together as a way of forgiving the past. Understandably, Satta refused. She couldn’t bear the thought of holding Nyuma’s hands – the same hands that had raped her and killed her family. Though, after much encouragement – she bravely accepted. Satta states: As I took his hand I was sobbing, not out of despair but a sense of relief that perhaps now we could move on from this terrible pain in our past. I didn’t expect it, but they succeeded in making peace between us.
Satta Joe is one of many heroic people who, under horrific and seemingly unforgivable circumstances, have chosen the path of peace.
Forgiveness does not mean that what the other person did was ok. Forgiveness is choosing to shift our focus from one of pain, to peace. We forgive because we want to feel good. And holding onto resentment prevents us from feeling any peace within ourselves. It prevents us from moving forward.
If Satta Joe can forgive this man for inflicting terrible crimes against her and her family; if she can choose peace over pain and sorrow; forgiveness over bitterness and revenge – then isn’t it time we all cleared the floor and danced?