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An internet interruption has me completely off my posting schedule! The Comcast cable guys just restored our service and permitted me to post part two of this story. In my last post, I told you about meeting Eva Kor, a woman I wronged when I was a college student. Last week, I had an opportunity to set things right when I spotted her at my dentist’s office.

Here’s the content of our two-minute conversation:

Me: “I have a very belated apology to make. Thirty-four years ago, I was a college student and you hired me to do some PR work for your museum. I didn’t do it, and I’ve always felt terrible about that.”

Eva: “It couldn’t have been that long ago because the museum opened just 18 years ago,” she said.

Me: “I know, but you were laying the groundwork back then.”

Eva: “I don’t remember.”

Me: “Yes, but I do, and I’ve spent a lifetime working very hard to make up for that.”

Eva squeezed my hand, smiled and said, “I forgive you.”

What choice do I have now but to forgive myself?

Who is Eva Kor?

She’s a woman with plenty of forgiveness under her belt. Eva was 10 years old in 1944 when her family was marched into Auschwitz. Her parents and two older sisters were sent immediately to the gas chambers. Eva and her twin sister Miriam were given over to Dr. Josef Mengele, the mad physician who performed sadistic experiments on twins. They were among the 200 children found alive at the 1945 liberation.

Eva founded the CANDLES (Children of Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors) Holocaust Museum in 1984, which was built in 1995. It now serves as a Holocaust resource, and a source of peace and hope in a world still ripe with hatred and prejudice. After all her experience, forgiving a college student’s irresponsible, incompetent deeds must have been small potatoes for Eva.

I’m not excited about the prospect of losing my front tooth. But if that happens, it could be a fair trade for Eva’s forgiveness. After three decades of carrying the dead weight of my shame, I can’t help but believe there was a providential reason for me to be in Dr. Jennings’ office the same day as Eva. It was past time for me to let go of my mistake. If you read Eva’s work, you’ll see that forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves.

Live and learn

Sometimes you have to live a while before you see yourself come full circle. That’s why I’m never sorry to be the age that I am. When I’ve hired interns who let me down, part of my penance was holding them accountable without burning them at the stake. How could I when I made the same mistakes as a young adult?

Why have I shared such an unflattering story about my former self? Because everyone has something they’re ashamed of. Learning how to navigate past shame is part of becoming a whole, compassionate person. When we don’t forgive ourselves, we are much more willing to sentence others to the death penalty for their mistakes, don’t you think? It’s true: doing the right thing–even when it’s difficult or inconvenient–means I have less guilt later.

I hope my experience is a friendly reminder. Is there something you need to forgive in yourself or someone else? 

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.

P.S. For a thoughtful study on the role of guilt and shame in our lives, check out Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

P.S.S. We’re having coffee this morning, watching the snow fly, and I caught this cardinal in our back yard.