PBS Documentary Traces the `Mystery’ of Love, Forgiveness

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c. 2006 Religion News Service

KALAMAZOO, Mich. _ Azim Khamisa has become best friends with Ples Felix, the grandfather of the California gang member who murdered Khamisa’s 20-year-old son, Tariq, in 1995.

J.D. and Thumper are Austin, Texas, motorcycle riders who were abused as children and are now helping to heal their own wounds by working with youngsters in their community who are at risk of being abused.

Then there are Emily Lodine, a Chicago opera singer, and Gary Overgaard, a Minnesota pig farmer, an unlikely couple who met on an airplane, fell in love and got married.

All of these people _ and their stories of love and in some cases forgiveness _ are part of “The Mystery of Love,” a documentary airing at 9 p.m. Wednesday (Dec. 13) on PBS stations nationwide; additional viewings may be scheduled at a later date.

Sponsored by the Kalamazoo-based Fetzer Institute, the two-hour documentary tries to lay out a vision for living, loving and forgiving that is sorely needed in the world today, said Kalamazoo County Circuit Judge William Schma.

“The Fetzer Institute’s mission is advancing love and forgiveness in a global community,” said Schma, one of the driving forces behind local efforts to bring better models of rehabilitation into the criminal justice system.

The institute devotes its work to fostering “awareness of the power of love and forgiveness” through research, education and service programs.

Hosted by author, playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith, the documentary tells the stories of people whose lives express different aspects of love and, to an extent, forgiveness.

One segment shows the bond of love between a mother in Baltimore and her three soldier sons who went off to fight in Iraq. Another highlights two musicians who met on the Internet and, after realizing that romantic love is only part of the equation for a lasting committed relationship, got married with the documentary cameras rolling.

Officials at Fetzer say the documentary, the first of three, will launch a nationwide outreach called the “Campaign for Love and Forgiveness: Transforming Individuals and Communities.” The institute has spent more than $1 million to underwrite the documentaries and to fund the campaign.

“We want to get this subject on the agenda of individuals, families and communities,” said Tom Beech, president of the Fetzer Institute.

“The documentaries will offer stories to help people see the possibility of how people who have been victims of extreme cruelty can forgive,” Beech said.

The institute is also offering materials to encourage people to write personal letters, instead of e-mails, to someone they care about to “try to mend and heal relationships,” said Mickey Olivanti, a program officer at Fetzer.

Fetzer’s effort to focus on love and forgiveness was spurred by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The institute wanted to use the tragedy to highlight and promote the value of love and forgiveness in the lives of people, families and nations.

“We were catalyzed by 9-11 to try to make a difference in a world dominated by violence, separation and fear,” Beech said.

Beech said there is a growing body of scientific evidence that shows by connecting with others in certain ways, grieving people can move along the often difficult path to forgiveness.

The institute has decided to try to apply the findings of these studies on love and forgiveness in “the real, practical world” through support of the documentaries and the combined letter-writing and public discussion campaign.

The campaign begins with the focus on the mystery of love, which “will lead eventually to an exploration of forgiveness, which is born of love, and becomes a loving act for all concerned,” said Shirley Showalter, vice president of programs for Fetzer.

Robert Enright, a professor in the department of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin, said he is delighted that Fetzer has decided to invest its resources in the topic of love and forgiveness.

“If someone doesn’t step to fund this kind of work, the world is in trouble,” said Enright, who has spent more than 20 years studying the interplay between love and forgiveness in places such as Belfast, Northern Ireland. He has also researched the different approaches people can take to actually forgive someone who has hurt them, as well as the value that forgiveness plays in a person’s ongoing mental health.

“Fetzer is helping to show the world that forgiveness is a genuine possibility,” he said. “Forgiving is not easy, but living with resentment is not easy. … Any amount of forgiveness can be a very courageous thing.”

KRE/JL END MEEHAN

(Chris Meehan writes for The Kalamazoo Gazette in Kalamazoo, Mich.)

Editors: To obtain photos of Smith and people featured in “The Mystery of Love,” go to the RNS Web site at https://religionnews.com. On the lower right, click on “photos,” then search by subject or slug.

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