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To Forgive But Not Forget
November, 2022

Dear Friends,

This photo might be from today's news, but I actually saw it in a museum I visited recently in Dubrovnik, Croatia. The Homeland War Museum is about the Balkans War from 1991-95, which in Croatia is called the Homeland War. The fighting was part of the conflicts that engulfed the region after the disintegration of the Communist state of Yugoslavia.

Housed in a nineteenth-century fort overlooking Dubrovnik, the museum's most powerful exhibits describe the nine-month siege that began in October, 1991, when Serbian and Montenegrin forces encircled and shelled the city. Nearly 300 people were killed, 7,000 were left homeless, and more than half of the buildings in the city's historic center were either damaged or destroyed.

Memories of that museum continue to resurface in my mind, mixed in with much more pleasant memories of Croatia (which is a beautiful country that I highly recommend visiting). I think the museum made such an impression on me in part because of its resonance with contemporary conflicts, especially the on-going war in Ukraine. But it's also made me think about what we can learn from that terrible, tragic Balkans War.

One is that places can recover even from horrendous conflicts. While those who lived through the Dubrovnik siege will likely always be haunted by it at some level, in many other ways the city has moved on. Today the picturesque streets of Dubrovnik are filled with tourists, with little evidence of the damage once inflicted upon the city.

The museum is also a reminder of the importance of learning history. My time in Croatia made me want to delve more deeply into the history of all of Europe, because you can't understand the current world without knowing the past. That's true for Russia and Ukraine, and it's especially true for the Balkans (to paraphrase Winston Churchill, the region produces too much history to be consumed locally).

I'm pondering, too, how easy it is for local conflicts to become regional ones, and then metastasize into national conflicts and then international wars. The Balkans have a complicated history, to be sure, but its people had lived in relative peace for centuries. Until one day, they didn't. 

We live in a time of fractured politics both in the United States and abroad. To me perhaps the most important lesson from Dubrovnik is to be very careful about allowing ethnic, religious, and ideological differences to divide people. Think of the definition of the word balkanize: to break up a region or group into smaller, hostile units. You do not want your homeland to be balkanized, believe me.

I have no wisdom to offer, alas, on how to end the war in Ukraine or social and political splintering in other nations. But I do know that the Homeland War Museum is a sobering reminder of what can happen when conflicts fester and explode. One photo in particular sums up for me the tragedy of that war: it shows a church surrounded by bombed-out buildings, with a tower that bears an image of a crucified Christ wearing a crown of thorns.

And I remember a comment made by one of our guides in Croatia. He said that when Dubrovnik was being rebuilt, a Catholic bishop told his parishioners that as they were repairing their homes, they should keep some sort of sign indicating the damage--using a different color of stone in repairs, for example. That's because he wanted them to remember what they had endured. "The bishop said it was important to forgive, but not forget, what had happened," our guide concluded.

Forgive, but not forget. It seems appropriate to ponder this lesson at this time of year. Today is Day of the Dead in Mexico and All Saints Day in Christian churches around the world. Both are holidays in which we remember the dead and reflect on the past. This year, especially, it seems like a time to have a generous and forgiving heart.

So if you're struggling with your own personal memories of loss and betrayal, maybe it's time to make peace with your past. Broken Dubrovnik was rebuilt. Maybe you can be too. 

All good wishes,


(photos courtesy of the Homeland War Museum in Dubrovnik, Croatia)

Recommended Reading:

In The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, along with his daughter Mpho Tutu, offers a manual on the art of forgiveness based on his experiences as Chair of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The Balkans,1804-2012: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers by Misha Glenny is a landmark history of Europe's most complex and least understood region. The book debunks popular misconceptions and describes the continuing role the Balkans have in world affairs.

In Sarah Novic's novel Girl at War, a college student returns to her homeland of Croatia to confront the memories of war that haunt her and her family.


Upcoming Event:

I'll lead a Day of the Dead Walk at Harvest Preserve in Iowa City, Iowa, at 4:30 pm on November 1. Join me for a meditative walk in honor of loved ones. 


News About My Newest Book:

As regular readers of this newsletter know, I'm the author of the new book The Soul of the Family Tree: Ancestors, Stories, and the Spirits We Inherit. See my website for a full list of reviews and media, including my NPR interviews with Rick Steves (part one; part two). 

Interested in doing The Soul of the Family Tree in a book group? You can find discussion questions here

If you've read and enjoyed any of my books, I hope you'll post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or other online sites. Your review will help other readers discover my work.

My Previous Books:

Near the Exit: Travels with the Not-So-Grim Reaper is about places that have helped me come to terms with mortality. 

“This book’s journey to spiritual places near and far is worth taking.” Library Journal (starred review)

Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God is a memoir told through trips to a dozen holy sites around the world.  

“Whether describing mystical visions or the rhythms of everyday life, Erickson turns the spiritual journey into a series of exciting transformations.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)



Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She's the author of The Soul of the Family Tree, Near the Exit and Holy Rover. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world. 

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