The other day we went to see the new Judi Dench movie - a true and touching story about Philomena Lee who, 50 years ago, was sent to a "Home for Unwed Mothers" in Ireland to have her baby.
The nuns who ran that convent were depicted as truly nasty human beings - humiliating the girls in their charge, punishing them for the sin of conceiving a child out of wedlock, forcing the girls into slave labor, forcibly removing their children once they had been born, and selling the babies to rich Americans.
Fifty years after her chid had been taken from her by the nuns, Philomena, along with a journalist who had agreed to help her, attempted to locate her lost, now-adult child. The nuns continued to be cruel and vindictive, doing whatever they could to impede Philomena in her quest to locate her child.
In one of the final scenes of the movie, I found myself cheering the journalist who had been helping Philomna as he lashed out in anger at the hypocrisy and cruelty of those truly evil nuns - raging against the hypocrisy of the church.
As the journalist raged, I realized that a growing anger had been burning in me throughout the movie. Like that journalist, I also felt a rage in me against those evil nuns and against all they represented. I wanted someone to do something to teach them a lesson. I was churning in my seat.
Then came one line that changed it all for me, and put my own anger into focus and perspective.
Now in her 70's, Philomena turned to the nuns gathered in a room and and she simply said, "I forgive you." I was stunned.
Of all people, she should have been the one filled with rage, she should have been the one seeking revenge and demanding retribution. But instead, she said "I forgive you."
The angry journalist replied, "Well, I couldn't forgive them- not now, not ever, " to which Philomena responded:
It must be very hard for you to be so angry
I actually "felt" the impact of that one little line in the movie. It was as if someone punched me in the gut, because it rang so true and was filled with such deep wisdom.
We often think about how hard it is to forgive another, especially when we have been unjustly wronged. But I think that probably the opposite is true. It's actually much harder to hold onto a burning anger that eats away at us.
"Forgiveness" is fundamental to the wisdom of Jesus who taught that there should be no limits to our forgiveness of others, and even directed his disciples to forgive an enemy and do good for those who do us harm.
The Buddha also taught that harboring anger and seeking revenge is a cause of our great suffering."
Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else;
you are the one who gets burned
In another place, the Buddha taught:
You will not be punished for your anger,
you will be punished by your anger
Jesus and the Buddha showed us a path to freedom as we walk the journey of life.
When we understand that "forgiveness" and "letting go of anger" lifts our burdens and lightens our load in life, then it's much easier to forgive than to hold onto anger and seek revenge.
Indeed, it is very hard to be angry.