When Gerald Ford became the first un-elected President of the United States, he brought with him the hopes and dreams of the American people, who were tired of hearing about Watergate, and who were filled with humiliation and over the break-ins and lies and excuses they had heard from their elected officials. Most Americans wanted to see President Richard Nixon punished-for what he had done, and for what he had not done. Gerry Ford was an honorable man, one who had already served his country with distinction, so everyone assumed that he would “do the right thing, ” and punish Richard Nixon and his co-conspirators.
But that’s not what happened. After agonizing over this decision, President Ford pardoned President Nixon for all crimes that he had committed against the American people. Why did he pardon him, instead of making him stand trial and go to jail? The answers may be found in his autobiography, “A Time To Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford. ” In it he states: “I agonized over the idea of a pardon. But I wasn’t motivated primarily by sympathy for his plight or by concern over the state of his health. It was the state of the country’s health at home and around the world that worried me. I was very sure of what would happen if I let the charges against Nixon run their course. His story would overshadow everything else. It would be virtually impossible for me to direct public attention to anything else. America needed recovery, not revenge. The hate had to be drained and the healing begun. ”
And so Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. Was that the right thing to do? Absolutely, because President Ford wanted healing for America. What is healing? Healing means “giving up the hope for a better or different yesterday. ” No matter what, Nixon had committed crimes against us, but even if he were sentenced to prison, we would not be able to re-live the past, so those crimes would not be erased or obliterated, no matter how much we wanted to travel back in time and begin all over again. What was done was done, and there was no going back.
Healing means “laying them gently down, ” not carrying the pains of the past on our shoulders so that they become a burden to us. Healing is not giving anyone else the power to control our lives, our destiny, our souls. When President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, he knew that America had to move on, that we had to find a way let go of the past, to let go of our anger against Nixon, so that we could begin to create for ourselves a “new normal, ” a future filled with hope and passion. What he desperately wanted us Americans to do was to say goodbye to Nixon and his cronies, and he thought the best way to do that would be to pardon him so that we could together move forward with strength and dignity.
When someone dies, or divorces, we need to move on in our lives, without them, and this is a difficult task indeed. Sometimes we want to keep them around so just so we can be angry with them, as if that anger will ease our pain and sorrow. It won’t, but we think that it will, so we continue to make them the focus of our lives. How often do we give too much power to those who have hurt and embarrassed us? How many times have you heard a woman talk about her “ex, ” about how he mistreated her and cheated on her and had only contempt and scorn for her? Well, perhaps that is all true, and I do not mean any disrespect, but “now what?” How long will she focus on his behavior in the past as a way of not moving forward in her life? Will her anger help her move forward? I suspect not, as many of us already know from personal experience. We all need to let the past remain in the past, not to carry it with us into the present. Because the future depends on our saying goodbye to those burdens which have paralyzed us and which have not allowed us to create a future filled with hope and love. Want to stay living in the past? Fine, but you will never ever heal from your wounds that way, and you will never feel the joy of creating a new life for yourself. Healing takes guts, as Gerry Ford showed us. It’s not easy and it’s not quick, but it is necessary.
More from his biography: “When it was done it was an unbelievable lifting of a burden from my shoulders. I felt very certain that I had made the right decision, and I was confident that I could now proceed without being harassed by Nixon or his problems any more. ” When someone leaves our lives, the right thing to do is to forgive them, to issue them a pardon, as President Ford did. When we can do that, we can move ahead “from mourning to morning. ” It works for America as a nation, and it works for us as individuals. Gerald Ford did the right thing to pardon Richard Nixon, and it’s just one more reason that he remains so beloved to so many.
Rabbi Mel Glazer can be found at http://www.andgodcreatedhope.com He has been a Rabbi, Grief Specialist and now author for over thirty years. His new book “And God Created Hope: Finding Your Way Through Grief With Lessons From Early Biblical Stories" connects his twin loves of teaching Torah and helping people heal from their grief. He has taught and lectured in synagogues and churches all across America, and he loves to be invited to shmooze with people.