Three Stories of Forgiveness

Three Stories of Forgiveness December 20, 2012

I have a collection of strange tags in my google reader clippings system (“drones,” “mary mallon,” and “surveillance state”), but, given the events of the past week, I thought it might be appropriate to dip into the “radical forgiveness” file.


Nobuo Fujita, 85, Is Dead; Only Foe to Bomb America (Nicholas Kristof, NYT)

Mr. Fujita, whose incendiary bombs set off forest fires in Oregon’s coastal range, played the key role in a quixotic plan by Japanese military commanders to put pressure on America’s home turf in World War II. The idea was that the United States Navy would then be obliged to retreat from the Pacific to protect the West Coast.

A quiet, humble man who in his later years was deeply ashamed of his air raids on the United States, Mr. Fujita eventually forged a remarkable bond of friendship with the people of Brookings, the small logging town whose surrounding forests he had bombed. Last week, as he lay dying, the town council of Brookings hailed Mr. Fujita an ”ambassador of good will” and proclaimed him an ”honorary citizen” of the town.

On his first postwar visit to Brookings in 1962, Mr. Fujita carried with him a 400-year-old samurai sword that had been handed down in his family from generation to generation. He presented the sword, which he had carried with him throughout the war, to Brookings as a symbol of his regret, and it now hangs in the local library.

Mr. Fujita’s daughter, Yoriko Asakura, said today that there was a bit more to the story. She recalled that her father had been very anxious before that visit, fretting about whether Oregonians would be angry at him for the bombing, and so he had decided to carry the sword so that if necessary he could appease their fury by committing ritual suicide, disemboweling himself with the sword in the traditional Japanese method known as seppuku.


The Man Who Charged Himself With Murder (Jennifer Gonnerman, New York)

He had told nobody about the shooting, but even after he’d left East Harlem, there were moments when memories of what he’d done would bubble up. He would be at the movies, a tub of popcorn on his lap, watching the screen, when one character would pull out a pistol and shoot somebody—and suddenly he was right back in 1993, on Park and 114th. When he was younger, he’d identify with the perpetrator on the screen—“I shot someone, too,” he’d say to himself—but as he got older, he found himself empathizing with the victim. In the middle of the movie, he’d start wondering if the man he had shot at was still alive—and then he’d question whether he even deserved to be in a theater at all, rather than in prison. The lights would go back on, everyone would file out, and he’d leave with no memory of the movie he’d just seen.

…In the hip-hop press, G. Dep’s confession became huge news. Had he really gone to the police and snitched on himself? Online commenters weighed in: “G-Dep is an idiot.” “Nobody does that-­EVER.” “What a dumb ass!” When Coleman’s family heard what he had done, they persuaded Anthony Ricco, one of the city’s top defense attorneys, to represent him. They hoped that the district attorney would let Coleman plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence.


The Heart of Darkness (Megan Feldman, SpiritMag)

Minutes later, inside a warmly lit amphitheater, Khamisa takes the stage. “I’d like to introduce to you a very special man in my life,” he says. “My brother, Ples Felix.” When introducing Felix, he always uses that word: brother.

Khamisa and Felix, both in their 60s, are not related. Khamisa is the son of successful Persian merchants who settled in Kenya and practiced Sufi Islam; Felix was born to a blue-collar black family in Los Angeles and raised Baptist. Khamisa studied in London and became an international investment banker; Felix studied in New York and became an urban planner.

Yet their lives show striking similarities. For one, both men turned their backs on violence. As a young man, Khamisa fled persecution in Kenya at the hands of the Idi Amin regime in neighboring Uganda, eventually settling in the U.S. Felix left South Central L.A. by joining the United States Army and served two tours in Vietnam before foregoing a military career to attend college and pursue a civilian profession. On separate continents, they both learned to meditate—Khamisa from a Sufi friend in Africa; Felix from a Buddhist monk in Southeast Asia. Both made it a daily practice.

But none of these commonalities are what brought them together. They met 17 years ago after Felix’s only grandson murdered Khamisa’s only son.

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  • Tom

    Thank you for sharing these stories, it’s nice to read some good news once in a while.
    The story of Mr. Fujita is very moving. I hope his goal of there never being another war between America and Japan has been realized. I mean, you never know what the future will bring but I can’t imagine it happening in our lifetimes.
    The other two stories are inspiring too but the background of violence in them make me very sad. If we could prevent murders like those, I’d prefer that. Forgiveness is great but prevention is better.

  • jenesaispas


    • hennie

      Stories like this makes the world go round. Touching and moving

  • g

    Nitpick: How is the Trevell Coleman story a story of forgiveness? Redemption, maybe, but that’s not the same. Am I missing something?

    • One of the most fiercely difficult acts of forgiveness is to forgive yourself. Trevell Coleman’s guilt is not gone, nor is his evil undone, but he no longer poisons himself over it. I have higher hopes for his reabilitation, because he has taken it upon himself to do penance for his crimes.

  • Hexep

    God, how must that have felt for Nobuo Fujita? If I had been him, and I’d have shown up in Brookings expecting that I’d have to kill myself and they showered me with hospitality, it’d rip my mind right in half. I’d just die in the night, probably.