for release November 23, 2001
by Melodie Davis
For the past year and a half I have had the opportunity to write a script for television. While I never thought I'd have that chance, our organization has produced a TV special that is being released beginning December 2 on ABC TV stations (at their discretion) across the U.S. (and I hope viewable for many Canadians who live close to the border).
I'd like to take you behind the scenes of this TV documentary because the importance of forgiveness is something that I believe in deeply, and because of the people who have bared their raw emotions and lives in "Journey Toward Forgiveness." It was produced in cooperation with other church groups who take turns producing religious specials for ABC, CBS and NBC.
The team working on this project started with the topic of "death/end of life," and did research on what aspect of that topic we would want to treat. Bill Moyers had just done a masterful job of looking at death in his PBS series last year, "On Our Own Terms." As we looked at stories related to the end of life, the stories which wouldn't let us go were related to people who had decided to extend forgiveness even in the face of wrongful, violent death.
We began talking to people like Bud Welch, who had been openly sharing his story of how he moved from feeling rage and the need for revenge after his only daughter, Julie, was killed in the Oklahoma City bombings of 1995. We taped a story with Wilma and Cliff Derksen, Winnipeg, Manitoba, about the abduction and murder of their 13-year-old daughter many years ago and their subsequent choice to forgive the murderer. We interviewed Ira Byock, a medical doctor from Missoula, Montana, author of a book, "Dying Well." Byock always tells dying patients to figure out who they need to ask forgiveness from, or extend it to. Some senior citizens in Missoula share stories from their lives as part of a community-wide effort to make dying a life-giving experience.
The documentary includes a family in Florida where the 14-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver, and another man talks about a deep family rift where forgiveness has not yet occurred. There is a segment on Lawrence Hart, a Cheyenne peace chief, recalling his anger and pain for the massacre of his ancestors, and his experience with reconciliation. John Perkins, an author, pastor, and justice advocate from Mississippi, tells of his near-death beating inflicted because of racism, and the direction it inspired for his life. And finally, Walter Wangerin, Jr., Lutheran pastor and storyteller, brings to life the story of a couple struggling with the husband's terminal illness.
Technically, only our producer Jerry Holsopple and videographer, Jim Bowman, did the actual interviewing. These stories were brought back to our office, transcribed word for word, and then my job as writer was to begin to select the portions of these lengthy, hour or more interviews that would get boiled down to several minutes. The producer and video editor, Wayne Gehman, brought the final stories into shape, using sections that worked visually. Eventually I also wrote the connecting pieces between the stories, and hammered out a beginning and ending. We went through about 15 drafts altogether, and that is probably a small number compared to what some projects demand. Our indefatigable associate producer, Sheri Hartzler, made sure we finished on deadline and I would be remiss not to mention the executive producers, Burton Buller and Dave Pomeroy helping with strategic decisions. Finally a former roommate of mine, Barbra **note to editors: this is the correct spelling** Graber, is the narrating voice connecting the threads.
But the reason I am telling you all this behind-the-scenes stuff is that all of the people who worked on the stories -- from the typists to the executive producer to the narrator, were incredibly touched the first time they heard them-most of us working with a box of tissues nearby. Again and again I marveled: not only at how people had been willing to open up their grief and examine it with a national audience, but at their wisdom and courage in choosing to deal with their grief. Most of them have embarked on a long and incredible journey to move in their hearts towards forgiveness.
Anger and revenge, these stories show us, seem to beget all sorts of terrible things: more violence, falling apart mentally and physically, and destroying the positive memories of lost loved ones. Forgiveness, on the other hand, say the survivors, helps you become "unstuck." I hope and pray you'll be moved as well. For more information and a list of stations who've scheduled air times, go to www.journeytowardforgiveness.com <http://www.journeytowardforgiveness.com>.
Comments? 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.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 795 words; end material = 105 words
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