Forgive, but not forget

The “Look In: Lent” project has so far been a mixed bag of creativity. Not because I’m not being creative, but I feel like some of the themes came a little too easy. One of the goals of the project was to make the “looking in” part an introspection of the theme as it relates to Lenten practices that would result in a deeper understanding.

Today’s theme on “forgive” didn’t come easy. I really struggled to find a way to express it in a photograph.

Driving my son and I to the place we are staying tonight we passed a cemetery and for some reason I was ¬†reminded of what Eboo Patel had told me last year in an interview: (paraphrased) “The main thing Christians need to take away from Islam is the idea of mercy. The main concept Muslims need to remember about Christianity is love.”

The combination of mercy with love feels like a good, and deep, understanding of what to forgive really means. So I turned the car around and went back to the cemetery, hoping to get a generic image of a tombstone and to tell some story about how God’s mercy, love and forgiveness is infinite and unbound, even by death.

But when I pulled into a far back section of the cemetery I found a grouping of grave markers written in Arabic and English. I was a little blown away since I had just thought of that Eboo Patel statement. I’m fully aware that many (most) Arabs in the U.S. are actually Christian, so I didn’t presume – and still don’t know – if these Arabic/English grave markers are Christian or Muslim, and I don’t need to know.

It was curious though in a western suburb of Cleveland to see Arabic written, so I took a few photos of the markers.

Grave marker of Mohammed Ismail, a convenience store clerk shot dead shortly after his 48th birthday in East Cleveland. (Gregg Brekke/SixView Studios)

Grave marker of Mohammed Ismail, a convenience store clerk shot dead shortly after his 48th birthday in East Cleveland. (Gregg Brekke/SixView Studios)

When I started processing the photos I was intrigued about who some of the people might have been so I started searching the internet and the first image edited was, as the caption says, the grave marker of Mohammed Ismail, a convenience store clerk who was the victim of a senseless murder in Cleveland last summer.

I then found his obituary and the notes left by friends, his children and his wife.

Not one comment mentioned the murder. No one expressed anger at the three young men who apparently found it all too easy to execute Mohammed and wound the store’s owner. No hatred, even though they had been through the hell of losing a loved one to violence.

May we all be able to forgive greatly so that we don’t forget the things we really love, even when they are gone.

“You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, ‘I forgive. I’m finished with it.'” — Maya Angelou