Marina Cantacuzino is telling me a story about two women, both of whom discovered that their partners were having affairs. For the first one – let’s call her Woman A – the infidelity, says Cantacuzino, “was seen as the act of ultimate betrayal, which not only ended her marriage but for the past 30 years has been the defining, obsessional, story of her life.”
As a result, her children, whom she had roped into the bitter, protracted war against her husband, more or less lost contact with their father.
Woman B was equally devastated to discover her husband’s affair, which came to light through text messages sent accidentally to one of their children.
But, over time, she decided that “These things happen, she was not going to let it ruin her life. The affair had to stop but it wasn’t going to be the big defining moment for her family.”
Some years later it was, says Cantacuzino, “as if it had never happened. There was no residue.”
Bitter marital breakdown. Estranged siblings. Adult children who “divorce” their parents. Friends who never speak again. Such all too common stories are a testament to the challenge of forgiveness in everyday life.
Extremes apart, almost everyone has a tale of an unthinking comment or unkind act (or several) by a family member or friend that can never quite be thrown off.
At the same time, none of us wants to be one of those slightly sad people with a long, knotted tale of deep resentment that is hauled out at every occasion, often over a string of seemingly minor incidents going back years: that person with a powerful investment in telling the story only one way – our way. Cantacuzino seems like an excellent adjudicator of such thorny issues. A former journalist with a calm, non-judging presence (she is a practising Buddhist), she set up the Forgiveness Project 10 years ago. A charitable enterprise, it has explored, largely through vivid storytelling, the many ways in which individuals deal with major trauma such as murder, sexual violence or acts of terrorism.
Her years as a journalist speaking to people about “the smaller injustices of their personal lives” meant that when she started collecting forgiveness stories she was ‘‘keen to avoid the ‘smaller’ and more personal narratives and concentrate instead on the more extreme stuff. I wanted to be more serious and engaged politically.”
The Forgiveness Project has done some remarkable work, bringing together perpetrators and victims from just about every serious war zone and area of conflict in the world, including Northern Ireland, South Africa and Israel.…