for release August 10, 2001
by Melodie Davis
Of Pruning Tomatoes and Forgiveness
Here in mid August, are you still pruning and suckering your tomatoes, or do you just let them run amok?
Now, I realize that city dwellers may not know exactly what I'm talking about. Some years ago my daughter was at her friend's house in the city where they were growing a few tomato plants in a flower bed. Michelle proceeded to sucker off the middle growth in the 'Y' formed by the tomato's new branch.
"What are you doing?" her friend yelled, aghast. Michelle tried to explain the benefits of pruning off this extra growth, to allow more strength to go to the development of tomatoes.
We were tardy tying up and pruning the tomatoes this year, so by the time I got around to it back in June, some of the stalks had developed a very bad structure: they were so bent that there was no way that I could immediately tie them up to be straightened.
But I knew that if I just got them started going up in a straight line or pattern, that eventually they would overcome their bent portion and straighten up to be a tall, productive, healthy tomato plant.
Training tomato vines is sometimes painful for me as the pruner. If I leave them go too long before pinching out the suckers, the sucker goes on to actually develop tomatoes on its branch. Yet I know if I don't lop off that errant branch, it will suck (as its name implies) life and strength from the rest of the tomato plant, ultimately resulting in a much weaker, less productive plant. And so we sucker the tomatoes, knowing it will help them in the long run.
That's how it is with forgiveness. Anger and bitterness sucks the life out of you, drags you down, makes you bent; you are not a reflection of your true potential. When we do the difficult work that is called for in forgiveness-pruning out bitterness and anger, we can gradually-not right away, go on to be healthy and straight. All it takes-like running a tomato up a tomato stake-is a start in the right direction.
But just like many people today don't know very much about pruning tomatoes, many people don't know very much about forgiveness. Although all of the great religions of the world teach about the necessity and power of forgiveness, why should someone who is not a religious person, forgive? Is it an old-fashioned, outdated concept?
Robert Enright, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, has pioneered current research on forgiveness. Academic interest in person-to-person forgiveness is fairly new. In Christianity Today, a writer reported that as late as the early 1980's one researcher looked up "forgiveness" in Psychology Abstracts and couldn't find a single entry. But that is changing now thanks to persons like Dr. Enright, who has a number of books out on the subject.
Hundreds of people have witnessed to the freeing power of forgiveness. Remember the famed photo of the naked little girl running away from her village in Vietnam after napalm was dropped on it? What a powerful image; it seared our consciousness and consciences. In November, 1996 (then living in Canada with her husband and child), she addressed a crowd at the Vietnam War Memorial. She said, "If I could talk to the pilot who dropped napalm on my village, I would say, 'I forgive you.'" What brought her to be able to say that? It probably was a process, and it probably was simply a decision she made in trying to get on with her life.
I think of the more ordinary stories of forgiveness closer to home. A 35-year-old man had been estranged from his family for several years; things were at an impasse. No one knew how to sort out the who-said-what-who-did-what-when did it start? He and his wife visited a counselor, who recommended he just ask to start over with his family, and ask forgiveness. So one day he went to see the parents and asked for forgiveness. They gladly welcomed him back into their lives.
These are the stories that melt my heart and help me realize that someone's willingness to take the first step and make a move toward forgiveness is what makes the difference between forgiveness and impasse; healing and hurt. It takes awhile-sometimes years, sometimes a lifetime-to bring healing. But when someone takes the first step, it is like the tomato vine that is finally started up a straight and strong stake: it won't get straightened out right away, but over time, it goes in the direction God intended it to grow.
For a free copy of a booklet, Finding a Way to Forgive, write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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