I read recently of a legend-I can't say whether it's true or not, but it doesn't really matter; it's just as impactful and meaningful, regardless its accuracy.
As legend has it, in this small country, the custom was, when an individual was determined to have murdered someone, the victims family was gathered together. They were ushered down to the shore of the closest river or lake. A tribal leader would then take the convicted and bind him tightly, hand and foot, so that he could scarcely move. The leader would then take the bound convict, and place him in a boat, and row out to the middle of the river or lake. The convict was then pushed over the side, and into the water.
To stop there, though, gives the impression that this custom was nothing more than a particularly cruel twist on the old testament "eye-for-an-eye" credo. But there's more to the legend. The family was gathered there on the banks of the river for a reason-because this custom was really for their benefit. You see, they had a choice to make-in that instant when the convict entered the water, that individual's life rested in their hands, because, as the leader rowed the boat out with the convict aboard, the family was left with another boat at their disposal. And as they watched the convict go under, they were faced with a choice: whether to allow the convict to drown and die, or to row out, pull the convict from the water, and save his life.
Because, according to the legend, if the family stood and watched as the convict died there in the water, justice would have been served-they would have received their vengeance, but they would have to carry the grief of losing that loved one forever. Alternately, if they chose to save him, they would have been denied justice-no vengeance, but in saving that doomed man, in showing mercy, they immediately released themselves from the grief that they would otherwise have carried.
Human nature, when hurt, wants to do all in it's power to ensure justice-even vengeance. But I believe, just as demonstrated in the African legend, that tied tightly to the back of that vengeance is the ever present memory of the grief and hurt-that is, they're tied together-the hurt and the vengeance. And since vengeance can never be taken back, the moment you latch on to that vengeance, you accept that hurt and grief-probably forever. On the other hand, you can choose to forgive, and by doing so, release yourself from the burden of that hurt and grief.
I have been hurt. But so have I hurt. So, I choose to take up the oar, and paddle my way out, and pull that poor soul from the water. It's not easy-it's contrary to my nature. But, it's also a release.
I only hope and pray that, as I dip under the waves here in my own river of justice, that those I have hurt are already rowing out to meet me.