The ‘sweet surrender’

February 23, 2017 6:23 am

I am a Civil War geek. I read about it. I watch PBS specials about it. When possible, I visit the battle fields and imagine the heroism and brutality of such a colossal conflict. Yep, I am that guy.

In the book “Lee: The Last Years,” Charles Flood tells the story of Robert E. Lee, the brilliant commander of the Confederate army during the Civil War.

According to Flood, after the Civil War, Lee visited a wealthy Kentucky lady who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her mansion. There she bitterly cried that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by federal artillery fire. She looked to Lee for a word condemning the North or at least sympathizing with her loss.

After a brief silence, Lee said, “Cut it down, my dear Madam, and forget it.” It is better to forgive the injustices of the past than to allow them to remain and let bitterness take root and poison the rest of our life.

When wronged, we want desperately to have our pain and suffering understood, validated by those who should see it as we do. We become so fixated on our need to be validated that lines are blurred, truths tainted and reality sensationalized. The wisdom of General Lee seems so simple and obvious to some and yet so unjust to others. Surrendering, letting go, moving on and forgiving seems so easy to write, yet it can be one of the hardest things to do.

Even in the face of utter destruction of the confederate army and with no other options while cornered near Appomattox VA, General Lee admitted this to his men: “There is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”

Yes, surrendering, forgiving and letting the anger go is hard — very hard. Yet, there is an undeniable sweetness in laying down your sword and saying “I will fight no more.” Learning to master this skill is to me one of the true secrets of living a happy and fulfilled life… and I am still learning.

It is impossible to interact with others on this planet without exercising some form of surrendering forgiveness. We cannot have any kind of meaningful relationship with others without it creeping in and commanding our attention. Whether it is with my work colleagues, children, parents, siblings or ex-spouse, apologies are made and forgiveness is sought.

The offense may be minor and then again massive, yet the method and remedy are the same. When it is genuine, real and heartfelt, it is beautiful, freeing and powerful.

It is the repeated cycle of offense, apology, and forgiveness that fuels and sustains the relationship itself. When this pattern breaks down, pride, ego and selfishness cancer the relationship and if not remedied, will undeniably kill it.

This is exactly the problem in many marriages, families, management teams, partnerships, athletic squads, etc. Gandhi taught if we practice an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, soon the whole world will be blind and toothless. Justice in and of itself simply cannot fuel and sustain meaningful human connections.

Mercy, compassion and the humanity of forgiveness is the true energy of any relationship. Surrendering, dropping all pretense and truly letting go is hard but essential.

Many live their entire lives clinging desperately to the anger, bitterness and pain poured upon them by another. Wives disparagingly vilify husbands, husbands blame wives, sisters demonize brothers, children malign parents — and for what? Pride, ego and vengeful gratification.  They selfishly strive to protect their reputation while trashing another’s character.

Reminds me of another story. The author is unknown to me.

Many years ago in the central part of Spain lived a father and son whose relationship became severely damaged. The relationship became so rancorous that the son decided to move out and never speak to his father again. After a few years, the father felt terrible about what had happened and decided to go out and look for his son. He searched and searched, but the son was nowhere to be found.

Finally, in a last desperate attempt to find his son, make amends and say “I am sorry, please forgive me,” the father took an ad out in the largest newspaper in Madrid. The ad read: “Dear Diego, please meet me in front of this newspaper office downtown at noon this Saturday. I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Your father.”

The next Saturday, there were over 400 Diegos waiting to see if their father had authored the ad, as they all were looking for mercy, love and acceptance from their estranged fathers.

There are so many in our society who need to reach out and say “I am sorry.” On the other hand, there are countless individuals who must metaphorically return home and lovingly embrace those who have wronged them.

Now do not get me wrong; letting go is not saying “everything is OK.” “I do not care” or “what you did is no big deal.”

Forgiving does not change what has been done, nor does it condone the offense. Forgiveness extends far past the grievance and rests on all involved. The person offering true forgiveness will not hold the wrongdoer’s offense in the recesses of their mind to use as a weapon at a later date. They simply choose not to remember it or bring it up in order to judge or rebuke.

Moving on and forgiving is truly letting go. What you’re saying is “What you did was not nice, fair or just. It sincerely hurt me. Nonetheless, I will not hold it against you in our relationship. For me there is no more grudge, anger and bitterness.

So let me officially say, I choose to let go. I choose to surrender. I choose peace over anger. I know I am not faultless and carry much of the blame.

Often the most passionate and vexing relationship challenges are created when two individuals fall in and then out of love.  I believe Carly Simon hit the nail on the head while writing “It Happens Everyday”:

“It happens everyday
Two lovers with the best intentions to stay
Together, they decide to separate
Just how it happens, neither is certain
But it happens everyday

It happens everyday
After you break up, you say these words to your friends
‘How could I have loved that boy?’
‘He was so bad to me in the end’
Well, you make him a liar
Turn him into a robber
Well, it happens everyday…”

No one ever says “I do” with the remotest intention of someday saying “I don’t.” But sadly, divorce happens — it happens every day. People make bad decisions, trust is lost, love is twisted to hate, dreams are shattered, sides are chosen, some family and friends attempt neutrality and children are collateral damage. Words are said, ex’s are vilified, lines are drawn and denigrating variations are told and retold. The deep hurt, resentment and anger cancers our soul.

While we outwardly tell ourselves and others “all is well” or “I’m doing great,” our inner voice, the one you hear when sincerely looking in a mirror, whispers “this is not entirely the truth.”

I know firsthand that by holding resentment and anger towards those that I beleive have wronged me, I am bound to them by an emotional link that is stronger and heavier than I can bear. Surrender, asking for and giving forgiveness is the only way to break the link and find freedom.

Several years ago, a true friend gave me the book “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. This friend encouraged me to read it and I did. For those of you who have not read the book nor seen the film, it is the story of Louis “Louie” Zamperini and his incredible life experiences.

While I cannot recount his entire story (it’s truly amazing), I can give you my CliffsNotes version of the most poignant parts (which, by the way, was woefully unexplored in Angelina Jolie’s 2014 movie adaptation).

Zamperini was captured during World War II by the Japanese. He spent 28 horrific months in various Japanese prisoner of war camps. One of his oppressors was a man by the name of Mutsuhiro Watanabe, nicknamed The Bird by the POWs.

Watanabe was especially cruel to Zamperini.  In prison, Zamperini suffered from near death weakness, starvation, and disease. While teetering on the brink of his demise, Zamperini endured relentless beatings and other forms of brutality from prison guards.

Watanabe often singled out Zamperini and seemed to find exhilaration in torturing the POW. He beat Zamperini with leather belts, batons, and his fists, repeatedly vowing to kill him. The brutality is hard to read about, let alone comprehend. As you read his story, you can imagine his pain and suffering and sympathize his plight.

In 1945, the POWs were liberated after the surrender of Japan. Yet, the hatred and burning desire for revenge haunted Zamperini long after the war ended. The years of brutalizing torture left Zamperini physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually enchained to his own vengeful cravings. He often would dream of his hands around Watanabe’s throat, choking him to death and would wake sweating and shaking in his own bed.

All he could think about was exacting revenge on this Japanese monster who had ruined his life. While abusing alcohol to numb his torment, the nightmares and flashbacks continued.

Zamperini was now at the point of losing his wife and family. He later claimed he was saved from his self-destructive POW daemons after witnessing a sermon by an evangelical preacher.

With his new faith and outlook on life, Zamperini surrendered his hate and dropped his longing for revenge on his nemeses, Watanabe. Freedom, joy and peace now filled Zamperini’s heart and there was no room for the rancorous odium that had been consuming him.

Zamperini returned to Japan in 1950 to meet and talk to the Japanese war criminals that were now imprisoned themselves. While there, he shook hands, embraced and forgave many of his old camp guards. Yet, one person was missing: Mutsuhiro Watanabe, The Bird.

Watanabe had eluded capture and was never officially tried and punished for his war crimes. After returning to the United States, Zamperini wrote a letter forgiving Watanabe of all the horrible things he had done to him and telling him he had no ill will towards him. This letter was never answered. While in Japan to carry the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics torch, Zamperini tried to meet with Watanabe.

The Bird declined.

Sweet surrender?  I believe Louie Zamperini understood this concept with every fiber of his being.

What a story. What a lesson. What a sweet surrender! What a shame we hold on to the hate. What a shame we hold on to the hurt.

Can you hear General Lee whispering in your ear, “lay your ego down, it is time to surrender and forget it.” It is better to forgive the injustices of the past than to allow them to remain, let bitterness take root and poison the rest of your life.”

I do not raise the white flag of surrender often. When I do, it is with intense internal angst. Surrender is so, so hard! I, like Lee, would rather die a thousand deaths. It is in my DNA to fight for what I believe is just and fair in this life. Fighting for the truth, love, family, or whatever will make me happy is healthy — isn’t that fair and just?

Yet, in every fight, there comes that point when I to ask “at what price?” In some fights, I just need to throw up my hands and surrender.

In a way, surrender is the antithesis of control. Sometimes we get obsessed on a specific outcome. Like we want to change those that have hurt us.  We want to take our pound of flesh and exact some pain from our offenders as we believe they have done from us.  It is my hope that the cognitive realization you are now experiencing is that your willingness to surrender achieves much more than your willingness to control.

We all have choices. Your surrender is not passively doing nothing. You’re rather doing something from a place of peace, from a place of sweet surrender, from a place of strength.

So here I am. So let me control me and say I am so very very sorry for my part. I am sorry I broke your heart. I am sorry for my anger. I am sorry for the lies.  My hands are up; I am on my knees; I surrender. I will fight no more. Now that the anger, begging, encouraging and pleading have taken its last desperate gasp of air, all that is left in me is the white flag of surrender.

General Lee was spot on. “It is better to forgive the injustices of the past than to allow them to remain and let bitterness take root and poison the rest of our life.”

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This post was written by Art

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