Diremption Redemption, Part 2

I find that I have reached an age indisputably well into middle-age – I’m 55 (as of Sun Mar 16) – and it is with some relief that I notice that redemption is not, for me, the personally pressing issue that it used to be. In my salad days when my judgment was green and my interpersonal skills were worse, I was sure I was ruining my life a couple times a year. On a good year. And doing damage to others in the process. Relationships and trusts were broken. People were hurt. I was one of them. People I cared about were others of them.

I will spare you the details and just say that in 1982, I was 23 and finding myself seriously yearning for redemption. That was the year that the Ben Kingsley film, “Gandhi,” came out. There’s a scene in that film in which Gandhi teaches the meaning of redemption in a way so powerful I have never forgotten it.

The film covers the violent rioting in which Muslim and Hindu mobs are forming -- attacking and killing each other all over India. At one point Gandhi makes plans to meet with Jinnah, a Muslim leader, to try to bring peace. One of Gandhi’s followers, a Hindu, cries out to Gandhi out of deep distrust of the Muslims, “don’t do it."

Gandhi says:
“What do you want me not to do? Not to meet with Mr. Jinnah? I am a Muslim, and a Hindu, and a Christian, and a Jew, and so are all of you. When you wave those flags and shout, you send fear into the hearts of your brothers. That is not the India I want! Stop it! For God's sake stop it!”
But it doesn’t stop. Gandhi goes on a hunger strike – refusing to eat until the violence stops.

At last, the fighting does stop. In the film, we see Gandhi weak and in bed from fasting. Leaders of the fighting factions come in, throw down their swords and promise they will fight no more. One man then pushes through and flings bread on Gandhi.

“Eat!” he says. “I'm going to Hell! But not with your death on my soul.”

Gandhi says, “Only God decides who goes to hell.”

“I killed a child! I smashed his head against a wall.”

Gandhi closes his eye in grief at this confession and asks, “Why?”

The man says, “They killed my son. My boy. The Muslims killed my son!” The man holds out a hand to indicate the height of a six- or seven-year-old boy.

Gandhi says, “I know a way out of Hell. Find a child, a child whose mother and father have been killed – a little boy about this high -- and raise him as your own. Only be sure that he is a Muslim and that you raise him as one.”

The man is astounded. He’s just been asked to do the hardest thing he could be asked to do. He’s been shown a path to restore right relations with his world, with himself. Doing so will require turning upside-down the hate and division and the loyalties that have come to define his life.

As all of this sinks in, the man’s stunned expression seems to turn from disbelief to wonder. That’s a subtle thing, the shift from incredulity to wonder. It’s the shift of glimpsing a way out, when you thought there was no way out of the hell of your life. The man turns to go. Stops. Turns back to Gandhi. Gets on his knees and bows to the ground.

The man has, we hope, committed to a very long process: a dozen years, at least, of raising a child – and adjusting to raising that child in a faith that, for now, he hates. For this man, his path to redemption will be long, and gradually unfolding.

It’s a rather different thing from the casual way that we speak of, say, an athlete redeeming herself by having a good performance following a disappointing one.

* * *
This is part 2 of 4 of "Diremption Redemption"
Next: Part 3.
Beginnning: Part 1.

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