Image taken by me in the Wisconsin countryside near Verona, adapted with filters, 2011

Work, Grace, and the Potential for Release Through Forgiveness

Georgia NeSmith


I wrote this in response to a friend who asked me for the Quaker take on forgiveness. This was my reply.

There is no specific “Quaker take” on forgiveness. As with everything else theological (and non-), Quakers are all over the map.

My own is that we come to forgiveness in our own way and in our own time, and we cannot judge those whose journey has not yet brought them to that place. Some may never arrive.

My own journey has required me to forgive some pretty horrific things, specifically of family members. I once thought I could never do that, and after a long period of feeling guilty because I could not forgive, I gave myself permission to stop seeking it.

At one point I wrote in my journal in the spring of ‘93, “I will not sacrifice myself on the altar of Quaker guilt.” I did not have to forgive the terrible things done unto me in order to be a good Quaker.

And yet, forgiveness came to me in a moment of grace a few days after 9/11.

I had already planned a trip back to California to spend time with my mother and family. I had decided, in my head, that at my age (then 53), it was time for me to let go of all that pain. I was going home for the first time after being estranged from my family for eight years. I was supposed to fly out 9/13.

And then, as we all know, all hell broke loose.

I was able to rearrange my flight to leave a week later. In the meantime I dealt with the emotional aftermath of those historic events. I was on the verge of complete collapse. I could not face seeing my family with all that churning in me.

My decision to go home had been an intellectual one. Emotionally I was not ready for it.

In order to take a break from all that, I rented the movie “Pay it Forward.” Now, all the promos for that movie presented it as a warm-fuzzy, sappy-happy movie. But it turned out not to be that at all. In the end, the child who has this wonderful idea for making the world a better place ends up beaten to death by bullies.

When I realized what was about to happen I burst into tears, crying not only for…



Georgia NeSmith

Retired professor, feminist, writer, photographer, activist, grandmother of 5, overall Wise Woman. Phd UIA School of Journalism & Mass Communication, 1994.