Oscar hopeful ‘Facing Fear’ turns spotlight on power of forgiveness

Matthew Boger and Tim Zaal

LOS ALTOS, CA, March 2, 2014 – Hearing the story of Matthew Boger and Tim Zaal makes you wonder if anything is truly unforgivable.

In 1980, a teen-aged Boger found himself living on the streets of West Hollywood after having been thrown out of his home for being gay. One evening, he was brutally beaten by a group of neo-Nazi skinheads, including Zaal, who had attached razor blades to his boots prior to kicking Boger in the face and leaving him for dead.

Twenty-eight years later, the two happened to meet again by chance in, of all places, the Museum of Tolerance in downtown Los Angeles. What followed was an unimaginable journey of forgiveness and reconciliation, an improbable collaboration and a friendship that remains to this day.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know if I could forgive somebody the way he’s been able to forgive me,” says Zaal in “Facing Fear,” nominated for an Academy Award this year for “Best Documentary Short Subject.”

“The words [he said] and what I saw were far more painful throughout my life than the boots and the blades,” says Boger. “I knew the only way I was going to get past it was to forgive him.”

The question is, how could anyone forgive such a heinous act? And why bother?

Both questions were touched on in last week’s column about Dr. Fred Luskin, who characterizes forgiveness as a kind of practical spirituality that not only makes you a better person but can improve your health as well.

“Forgiveness is one of those ways where we wipe clean a major threat to our well-being,” said the Stanford psychologist and author of Forgive For Good. “That causes the body to have more time to repair. Immune function goes up, blood pressure goes down.”

As Luskin describes it, forgiveness is one of the best tools we have to protect ourselves from further pain, mentally and physically. He also describes forgiveness as an innate if latent quality of thought that can be taught and nurtured.

Given Luskin’s 20-plus years of research on the subject – not to mention Boger and Zaal’s remarkable example – one can also assume that the capacity to forgive is not just a nice add-on but an indispensable element of our personal and societal well-being.

When asked to offer up a good role model or two of forgiveness, the first name Luskin mentions is Jesus.

Most are probably familiar with Jesus’ encouragement during his so-called Sermon on the Mount to “forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” What is often overlooked, however, is that he amplifies this same message only moments later, as if to say, “For those of you who may have shown up late, this is the crux of what I’ve been preaching all afternoon.”

Jesus knew perhaps better than anyone else that forgiveness isn’t so much about what the Divine is asking us to do, but what He or She is forever causing us to express – an irresistible if delayed impulse to do the right thing.

Luskin is quick to point out, however, that it’s not just religious types like Jesus that inspire us, but people like Matthew Boger and Tim Zaal whose stories may resonate with a more contemporary-minded audience.

Speaking of which, “Facing Fear” Director Jason Cohen would like to see his film audiences finding ways to relate this story to their own lives. “We obviously hope people haven’t gone through as dramatic a situation as Matthew and Tim,” said Cohen in an interview on the “Entertainment Weekly” web site, “but we do feel there are themes in this film that anyone could take away and apply on a smaller scale.”

As we learn that little if anything in life is truly unforgivable, it’s likely that the desire for revenge – and the pain that often goes with it – will become less tolerable, and the world a more forgiving place to live.

Eric Nelson’s columns on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs.

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