In my lifetime I have learned a few things about forgiveness. I’ve learned, in ways, how important it is to grant and seek forgiveness for ourselves and others. I’ve learned, in ways, how to sort out what parts of myself come into play when someone does something and the end result is that I am hurt, frustrated, or angered by it. I’ve learned to not say someone ‘made me’ do or feel anything and take responsibility for my own choices and emotions. I’ve learned to not let others’ opinions of me define who I am or how I view myself. Somerset Maugham wrote in The Moon And Sixpence that people who say they don’t care what others think of them are just using that as a defense mechanism or a coping strategy. (paraphrasing). I disagree with him. I believe that others’ opinions of me are none of my business, and while I will speak out against blatant lies told about me and speak my truth, I never consciously try to change anyone’s opinion of me, good or bad. I’ve been liked, loved, disliked and hated in my lifetime. I’ve learned from them all.
I’ve learned to take stock of myself to a large degree, and hopefully assign a level of importance to situations and actions that truly befit them. I’ve learned to let certain things go very easily, and give second, and even third chances to people. I’ve been deceived by others from time to time, and I have ended friendships because of it. Not because I couldn’t forgive the person, but because I no longer felt I could trust them. I bear against them no ill will. I wish them nothing but happiness in their lives. I just don’t make a practice of surrounding myself with people I know that I cannot trust. I forgave them long ago.
There are many quotes available to be read about forgiveness. Authors have said that forgiveness is freeing….forgiveness is not about forgetting but about not letting something have a hold on you any longer. It’s about releasing whatever hurt, frustration, or anger you feel toward someone or something and experiencing the serenity that comes with that release. Some say that only the weak hold on to anger, that forgiveness requires true strength in a person. I suppose there’s a part of me that subscribes to that belief.
There’s also a part of me that holds onto anger at times. Part of me that keeps reliving an experience in my life that to this day can dominate my thoughts and raise feelings of sadness and hurt that I just don’t know what to do with. Knowing that I’ll never forget it I find it that much harder to forgive.
I know that I am capable of forgiving…of truly forgiving…others; as well as myself. I have, and am grateful for, friends now that were ‘enemies’ of my youth. I have a relationship with my father because I was able to forgive him for many things that I didn’t think I ever would. I have forgiven myself for things that I did and choices that I made that were wrong, and hurtful, and ill-informed. I have apologized to the people that I feel I have ‘harmed’ most in my lifetime, sincerely apologized, and have received their forgiveness, for which I am very grateful.
I know the wonders of forgiveness. I know how exhilarating it feels to apologize to someone and have them accept your apology, or to have someone apologize to you and to accept their apology. I know how emancipating it is to look at yourself and your experiences critically, and do the work involved in understanding your role in (or lack of role in) things that have happened to you and forgive yourself. I know that to err is human but to forgive is divine. I know that even if we get so wrapped up in our anger and our resentment and our hurt and anguish that they become ingrained as a part of our personality we can still let it all go, sincerely let it go, and move forward with life. And yet there is still something I carry, something so deeply embedded in my psyche, that I just cannot seem to forgive it.
I believe that true forgiveness is possible. I also believe that there are things that happen that people just don’t really recover from if they are never apologized for or amends are never made. Sometimes the person you may wish to forgive is no longer in your life in one way or another, and there’s no means of talking to them. Sometimes they just cannot admit to the act/words that have angered or hurt another person. Sometimes they die without ever expressing any true remorse and therefore your opportunity to genuinely forgive dies along with them. I’ve experienced that; to have a person die without ever really ‘hashing it out.’ I suppose I could have….but in the long run, their response would never have satisfied me, and therefore I choose to live with it being unforgiven. It wasn’t just a body that was buried that day. It was the chance to receive an apology for all the anger, and pain, and humiliation, and grief, and torment, and self-doubt that remain lodged in my head. It was an apology I knew in advance I’d never receive.
But more than that; it was also the chance to speak my truth about it.
Maybe forgiving is too lofty a goal for me in this instance. Maybe I’ve just hoarded my anger and everything else I feel about it for so long that I’ve become in some ways addicted to it….anger is easier (not better) for me to feel than pain and anguish under the circumstances. Maybe I’m not able to forgive this because I’m not willing to let it go. Maybe I’m just afraid of what will come if the anger is no longer there to stand guard against it.
Forgiveness is a gift…both to give and to receive. In so many cases, I’ve been able to experience this gift. Perhaps one day I’ll let this last ‘unforgiven’ go as well.