When the appointed day came, Harry considered refusing to see the woman, but his curiosity got the better of him. The visiting area in Harry's prison was set up so that the visitor and the prisoner sat across from each other separated by a protective partition that offered visibility with no physical access. Harry felt relatively safe and decided to see what this visit was about.
The governor's wife was already seated when Harry was led in by the guard. He took his seat and lifted the handset. The woman did the same. She was the first to speak and looking him in the eyes she said, "I have come here today to tell you that God forgives you and I forgive you." Then she hung up the handset and walked away.
Harry was stunned. Of all the potential outcomes of this meeting that he had envisioned, this had not been one of them.
This story is about the impact of the choices we make regarding our burdens of fear, anger, grief, shame and guilt. Forgiveness is not saying that it was okay that something happened; rather it is the acceptance that it did happen and the willingness to let it be in the past rather than live it over and over in the present. The governor's wife recognized that as long she carried hatred and resentment she was harming herself, so she chose to forgive Harry in order to release her anger and get on with her life. She did not do it for Harry; she did it to set herself free.
However, it so happened that shortly after his conversation with the governor's wife there seemed to be some sort of internal shift that occurred in Harry. Whereas prior to that event he had been pretty much concerned with his own self interest (which does seem to be an obvious requirement for his career choice), after his experience with the governor's wife, he became involved in the prison library and eventually was instrumental in setting up an educational program to teach reading and living skills to inmates. So perhaps our personal practice of forgiveness has the power to ripple through the world.
With deep appreciation for Dr. Herschel Lamp's original telling of this tale many years ago.