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Talking Story

About three years ago I got a call from the filmmaker Helen Whitney, who wanted to know if I would participate in a film about forgiveness that she was making for PBS Frontline. She sent me copies of some other films she had made, and I found them thoughtful and open. I noticed how she let the story emerge in the words of the people in the film.

She came to town and was actually a houseguest of some trusted friends, who spoke admiringly about her work. We met over a glass of red wine and she told me how she came to be working on a film about this subject that she wasn’t quite sure she believed in. Certainly she didn’t believe in any hasty, reflexive sort of forgiveness. But she said she had read an account of my process of return, repentance, and earning forgiveness, written by the scholar Janet Landman and included in a textbook edited by a philosopher and a psychologist. She thought she could see making a film about the topic from that angle.

I decided to trust Helen and agreed to be interviewed for the film. I let a lady-like friend take me shopping for the right kind of clothes and show me how to wear makeup for the camera. I showed up one bright morning at an estate in Canton, the sort of place that people rent for weddings and conferences, full of lovely wood paneling and all set up for the filming. And I talked for six hours, with my most undefended heart, about my life, my thinking, my actions over a period that ranged from Catholic childhood through going off to Brandeis, running around with guns in a “war against the government”, the inevitable disastrous outcome of Walter Schroeder’s death, my years of dodging, and then finally accepting responsibility for my own behavior. I wanted to be as searingly honest and thoughtful as I could.

At the end of the six hours I felt exhausted. More than that, I felt flayed. I wondered why I had agreed to subject myself to such an experience. I wondered, “Will there come a time when it’s no longer necessary, or even useful, to tell this story?” But I think that most of the important teaching in human life comes from stories told at that level of vulnerability, and I wanted to make the story of my experience available for whoever might find it useful.

Helen had asked if I ever went into a church when I wanted comfort or quiet contemplation. I said no, that for those things I went to the natural world around me, to the woods, the pond, the vegetables and the nearby farm. She brought her crew to film me swimming, shopping for vegetables, picking wild greens from my yard, cooking white beans with greens and dried tomatoes for them all. After a day of dwelling only in the story of penitence, it was a relief to be in ordinary life.

That footage isn’t part of the film that is showing on Frontline this week. The filmmaker had a story to tell, one that is not untrue at all, only incomplete. In her exploration of forgiveness, Helen Whitney presented the story of my penitential journey. But ultimately the point of the penitential journey is that it ends in redemption, in the invitation to live a full and joyful life.

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About Katherine Power

I didn’t set out to be a terrorist. As a student activist, I moved from protesting the war in Viet Nam to waging guerrilla war to overthrow the government….

Recent and Upcoming Appearances and Publications
1/15/2014 Complexity and Social Change, Occupy Radio
10/31/2013 Surrender, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
10/25/2013 Surrender, Taos Community Theater, Taos, NM

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