Laura Roehl

Bill Buckner Would Approve  -- Forgiveness Speech

delivered 17 June 2005, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia, PA

Audio mp3 of Address

Plug-in required for flash audio


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

October 26, 1986. The sky was a starry blue, a glorious backdrop for possibly the most important moment in history. Yes -- Game 6 of the Boston Red Sox-New York Mets World Series. Bottom of the tenth with two out and Ray Knight on second. Mookie Wilson stood on home plate facing a steely-faced Bob Stanley. Stanley pitched a frozen rough over home plate and Mookie tapped it right down the first baseline. Inside his head, the first baseman heard the call of his name like the voice of God: Bill Buckner -- ner -- nerÖ.

It was only Bill and the ball and his faceoff with destiny. Bill pulled out his glove and watched in slow motion as that ball rolled right between his legs. And that was it. The Red Sox lost and Buckner was pegged as the World Series goat. Boston hated him for the loss, and no matter how good his batting average, no matter what previous mistakes had been made in the game, forgiveness for Bill Buckner was completely out of the question.

This attitude is not limited to the baseball stadium. In fact, itís becoming more of the national pastime than baseball itself. Author Greg Easterbrook states in The Progress Paradox that we, now more than ever, live in an age in which the collecting of grievances and the holding of grudges is elaborately encouraged, where forgiveness is not just ignored, it's looked down upon. That's my concern. As a society, too often we choose to live in what I call a state of unforgiveness. We repeatedly refuse to forgive others for errors committed against us, no matter how big or small. Not only are we hurting those we don't forgive, but we're hurting ourselves as well. So, today I'll show you the play by play, as we look at how we wrongly respond to these errors, by first holding grudges, and second, getting even.

After the 2004 Red Sox World Series win, many people decided it was time to forgive Billy's mistake. Wait a second. Didn't that happen 18 years ago? Clearly, they had some trouble letting go of old grudges; and they're not alone. Chances are you could think of at least one person who you really haven't forgiven -- like the coworker who constantly took credit for your incredible work, or the competitor who ignored you in a round, or the supposed best friend  -- let's call her "Alexis" -- who, in tenth grade, tried to steal your boyfriend while supposedly talking to him on your behalf -- let's call him "Steve." And the names have not been changed here, people, because no one is innocent.

But, I forgave her. Besides, I won.

Studies conducted by the Stanford University Forgiveness Project found that individuals who harbor grudges not only damage their interpersonal relationships, but they also damage themselves. They are more likely to experience high levels of stress, high blood pressure, depression, a suppressed immune system, stress related diseases like fibromyalgia and even heart disease. Or, basically, all of the side effects of Viagra. But, seriously, that's because when we hold feelings of anger and hatred bottled up inside, they often manifest themselves into physical symptoms. Think of it this way: when we harden our hearts toward others, we literally harden our hearts. So ultimately, holding grudges is the game with no winners.

Now, the technical definition of an error in baseball is "a mistake made by a player that gives the opposing team an extra advantage." But, in the game of getting even, a mistake made by someone ignites revenge, and rarely does any player have the advantage. Are you harboring resentment towards someone? Well, you could go to, a helpful website that offers hints on taking revenge. Vengeance is mine, saith the Revenge Lady. One of my particular favorites on this website is a story about a spiteful secretary who wants to get even with her boss after an argument. Now, they say that revenge is the dish best served cold. So, she injected milk into his desk chair and spread ground beef under his carpet. Now, to our secretary, this may have seemed like a home run, but after her boss found out it was her dirty deed, she found herself, not an all-star, but unemployed.

Now while we may laugh at these more ridiculous tales of revenge gone awry, we need to realize that not all tales of revenge are this light-hearted. Take, for example, a story reported in Time Magazine about Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, New York, where students Tyrone Sinclair and Ian Moore, ages16 and 17, were both murdered by fellow student Kaleen Sumter, age 15, in an act of revenge. Sumter had gotten in some fist fights with the boys and one day decided to get even by bringing a gun to school and shooting them both point blank in the hallway. In a four year span at Thomas Jefferson High, 70 students died, and the study prepared for the state of New York found that 50% of all 1,900 students had some kind of puncture wound on their body at any given time. The school has a grieving room where students can seek solace, along with an ongoing burial fund to help families finance funerals.

Clearly, for these students, there is no room for human error because revenge has become a way of life.

Dr. Robert Enright, the unquestioned pioneer in the scientific study of forgiveness, sees a direct correlation between our ability to forgive and the prevalence of violence in schools, the disintegration of marriage, and the breakdown of family. Maybe that's why studies now show that more than 135,000 students bring guns to school each day, or the divorce rate is now reaching 60%, and why every 26 seconds, a teenager runs away from home.

I'll admit that I'm no stranger to bitterness. Very recently, a close friend of mine was hit and killed in a car accident where he was hit head-on by two different vehicles. When I learned of his death, not only was I filled with a deep sorrow, but a burning rage for these two drivers. Why had they been driving so fast? Why weren't they looking where they were going? Out of all the cars on the road, why did they have to hit his? On the day of his funeral, I was still so angry with these men who had taken my friend away from me. His mother got up to deliver her memorial. She said that she missed Chris. She would always miss Chris -- but that she did not blame the two drivers and urged them not to live in guilt over the accident. She said:

I can either sow seeds of bitterness and reap unhappiness, or sow seeds of forgiveness and reap joy. I could not choose when Chris would leave this earth, but I can choose to live my life in peace and in grace. Surely if a grieving mother can find room in her heart for forgiveness, then the rest of us can at least try.

So, how can we be more like Chris's mom and make the choice to forgive those who have hurt us?

Well, Dr. [Fred] Luskin, author of the book Forgive for Good, offers us these basic steps. First, we need to realize that forgiveness is not some catch-all net that lets anything slide. Forgiveness is not the absence of justice, or the condoning of bad behaviors. If someone breaks your window with a baseball, you can forgive them. They should still pay for it. If somebody breaks your heart, they need to know the consequences of their actions. And if your little sister calls you evil, tall girl, she should know that's not an appropriate way to address you. And if you go ahead and eat half of her Halloween candy because of it, well, you should know better.

Second, we need to realize that forgiveness is not absolving someone their sin, but rather releasing hurt that was dealt us and moving on with life.

Finally, we need to forgive the person or persons who hurt us, whether they asked for forgiveness or not. Ultimately, the choice is ours. After all, change is possible.

Think of old Billy himself, who, when asked how he felt about the 2004 Red Sox World Series win, said, "This is their championship. This is what they did, and I'm happy for them. Besides, they beat the Yankees along the way. I hate the Yankees."

So, if the Red Sox fans and Bill Buckner can do it, then maybe, even when life throws us a curve, it's time for us to step up to the plate -- and play ball.

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

Research Note: Transcription by JP Fugler

Additional Situational Data: Final Round of Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation Auxiliary Oratory at the National Forensic League National Tournament of Excellence

Page Updated: 8/19/17

U.S. Copyright Status: Text & Audio = Uncertain.



































Top 100 American Speeches

Online Speech Bank

Movie Speeches

© Copyright 2001-Present. 
American Rhetoric.