Other Readings: “What If Nobody Forgave?”
In a land far away, a wise old man who knew a great deal about people because he traveled from place to place arrived at a strange village. In this town all the people were carrying what seemed to be great bundles on their backs. They couldn't look around very well, and they never looked up because of the heavy burdens they carried.
Puzzled, the wise old man finally stopped a young fellow. "My good man, I am a stranger to your land and am fascinated by these large bundles you all carry about but never seem to put down. What is their purpose?"
"Oh, these," answered the young fellow in a matter-of-fact way. "These are our grudges."
"My," said the wise old man, "that's a lot of grudges to collect at your age!"
"Oh, they're not all mine. Most of them were passed down in my family." The young fellow heaved a weary sigh. "See that man over there? I have quite a load of grudges against his family. His great, great grandfather called mine a horse thief when they both wanted to be elected mayor."
The wise man looked around and shook his head sadly. "You all look so unhappy. Is there no way to get rid of these burdens?"
"We've forgotten how," said the young fellow, shifting his load a little. "You see, at first we were proud of our grudges. Tourists came from miles around. But after a few years, Grudgeville became a dreary place. Nobody came. And we had forgotten how to stop holding our grudges."
"If you really want to get rid of those grudges," said the wise old man, "I think I know five magic words that will do the trick."
"You do?" asked the fellow hopefully. "That would be a miracle. I'll go and have the mayor call the people of Grudgeville together." And off he went, as fast as his grudges would let him.
The mayor lost no time calling the people to the village square. The mayor and the wise old man stood on a platform where they could see all the hunched-over villagers.
When the people had quieted down, the mayor said, "Good people of Grudgeville, a wonderful thing has happened! A very wise stranger has come into our town. He says he can tell us the magic words that will rid us of these grudges we have carried for generations. How many of you would like to be able to straighten up, have your grudges disappear, look at the world in a whole new way? Listen to the wise words of our visitor, then, and do as he tells you."
"My friends, these are simple words, yet some people find them hard to say," said the wise stranger. "I think you have the courage to speak them. The trick is that you must say them to each other and truly mean them. The first two words are 'I'm sorry.' Can you say them? The other three are 'I forgive you.' Can you say that? Now say these words to each other."
There was a long pause, then a low grumble from the townspeople. First one person, and then another, said the words. Soon they were all saying them to each other—quietly at first and then louder. And then—would you believe it? Just like the wise man predicted, the grudges disappeared! What joy there was in the town. People were heard saying, "Look how those trees have grown!" and "Is that you, Jim? How good to see your face!"
There was dancing in the streets that day, and it wasn't long before the mayor changed the name of the town to Joytown.
Note: This story was developed for use with hand puppets or flannel board. The suggested background is the facade of a town hall, with a sign reading GRUDGEVILLE. The sign should have holes punched in either end, through which pins hold it to the board so it can be turned over at the end, to read JOYTOWN. For the flannel board, cardboard figures can be joined at the waist and held onto the board with folded masking tape.
Some questions for you to think about:
- Do you think it's a good idea to make people apologize when they've done something wrong? Why or why not?
- How can you tell when an apology is real—when the person making it is truly sorry?
- What are some ways, besides apologizing, that you can show someone you're sorry?
- Can you remember a time, not too long ago, when you apologized to someone? What were the circumstances and how did you feel? When has someone apologized to you? How did you feel then?
- Are you able to forgive a person who has hurt you but isn't willing to apologize? If so, how do you do it?
Some things for you to do:
- Create a dance showing townspeople getting rid of their burdens.
- Make an "I'm sorry" card for someone to whom you want to apologize.
- Imagine what a grudge, or a bundle of grudges, looks like. What would you see when you opened the bundle? Use paints, clay, or recyclables to make a grudge or bundle of grudges.
- Along the left-hand side of a piece of paper, spell out "MAGIC WORDS" diagonally. Using "I" as the beginning of the first word, write, "I'm sorry." Use the other letters to spell out other "magic words" we can use to solve a disagreement or make up after a quarrel. Then copy the whole thing onto a larger piece of paper and make a poster by adding pictures.
- Pretend you are a reporter doing a story about the town that changed its name from "Grudgeville" to "Joytown." Come up with a headline and then write a news story about how this change came to be. Draw a "photo" to go along with the story.
What If Nobody Forgave? and Other Stories, edited by Collen M. McDonald. Skinner House Books, 2003.
Copyright: The author has given Unitarian Universalist Association member congregations permission to reprint this piece for use in public worship. Any reprints must acknowledge the name of the author.
For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Last updated on Wednesday, February 27, 2013.
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