It was one of the smaller conflicts in the annals of World War II, but in 1942, the Japanese Navy bombed Brookings, Oregon. An airplane dropped two firebombs. The idea was to start a giant forest fire and divert resources from the American war effort. The forest was wet that day, and the U. S. Forest Service put the fire out quickly.
Legacy of the Bombing
The Japanese pilot, Nubuo Fujita, visited Brookings 20 years later. He was ashamed of what he had done, and he brought along his family’s 400-year-old katana. He intended to use the sword to commit seppuku if he encountered a hostile reception. But the people of Brookings received him warmly, and he decided to present the city his sword by way of apology. For the next 30 years, he enjoyed a heartfelt relationship with the people of Brookings. They made him an honorary citizen of the town and designated him an ambassador of good will. He helped them with fundraising for a new library and sponsored Oregon students to study in Japan. He planted a tree at the site he had once bombed.
I love that story. To me, it shows the promise of forgiveness — to make life healthier and happier, both for the forgiver and the forgiven.
Forgiveness for Good Health
When you have been wronged, you have a choice to make. You can choose to hold a grudge, or you can choose to forgive and live your life. In a 2015 article in The Atlantic, Olga Khazan touched on some of the research that has demonstrated the health-giving properties of forgiveness. She spoke with Everett Worthington, a psychology professor whose mother was murdered by a burglar: “When someone holds a grudge, their body courses with high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. When cortisol surges at chronically high levels for long periods of time, Worthington says, it can reduce brain size, sex drive, and digestive ability.”
In other words, if you choose your grudge, enjoy it. It may have to replace intellect, sex, and good digestion.
Nobody says forgiveness is easy or has to happen quickly. It requires empathizing with someone who has hurt you. But you have to ask if cherishing your grudge is worth the cost. I know that letting someone escape justice is not fair. But what value does fairness have if it reduces your brain size, sex drive, and digestive ability?
Compassion for Yourself
It’s one thing to forgive someone who has wronged you. It’s quite another to forgive yourself. Most of us hope that we are better than our mistakes, and that makes it difficult for us to acknowledge and get past those mistakes.
But if you have no compassion for yourself, how can you have compassion for anyone else? If you are going to condemn yourself to carry the full weight of all your regrets, how will you ever take joy in the present or the future? Don’t fall into the trap of defining yourself by the worst thing you’ve ever done. Muster the courage and dignity to face up to your errors, own them, and forgive them. Then you can be free to love yourself the way you, as a human being, deserve. That may well be the most important step to good mental health.
September 8 is Pardon Day. Use the occasion to pardon yourself and forgive those who have harmed you. And may you have a life as full as that of Nubuo Fujita.
If you are in a mental health emergency, please call 911. For mental health resources click here.
Photo: Nubuo Fujita in flight gear. Author unknown. Public domain.