One thing that has been on my mind quite a bit lately is the concept of forgiveness. I have been thinking about it, talking about it, and testing it as a theory. But I want to be doing it. You see, I generally consider myself to be a forgiving person. You commit an offense against me, you apologize, I forgive. It’s done. But how do you forgive someone whose offense is perpetual, who you know will hurt you again, or whose crime has repercussions in your life that may never be rectified? How do I forgive acts that continue to have a negative effect on me? This is a question that I cannot answer today, but that I will probably be working to answer for months to come.
There are many things in my life that I need to forgive, none of which I plan to share at this time, so you’ll have to bear with me through this discussion. Recently, I met a woman named Periwinkle, a woman who already has had, and who is likely to have, an incalculable effect on my life. She is part of my new church life, which I would like to talk about…later. But the first time I met her, on Ash Wednesday, she said the words that launched this journey: “I don’t know why, I don’t know you, but I am feeling that there are some things you need to forgive.” Periwinkle saw the bitterness to which I almost cling, and she prompted me to take this first step: to realize that I need to want to forgive.
There are things that have happened to me which I can’t even contemplate forgiving right now. They are still happening to me, still keeping me from living my whole life and experiencing my world fully. They are not necessarily grievous ills, but their echoes have, through the compounding effect of years, become as resonant to me as my own thoughts. I do not want to forgive the people who have perpetrated these things. But I do know now what I did not understand before: I want to be free from those echoes.
And the other night, I truly found direction along this path. I found the ability to forgive, not a person, but a failing by that person. That morning I had asked my therapist the question, “How do I forgive a person who has done so much and still continues to do so much that hurts me?” And she told me not to forgive them all at once–to forgive the parts of that failing separately. I had had a terrible weekend with my caregiving and with world events, and I was desperate. Sitting on the floor, crying hysterically, sick with worry for the present and future, I reached out from a place of brokenness and offered a forgiveness I didn’t know I could manage.
I have realized since that night that I don’t believe that forgiveness always comes from a place of bounty or benevolence. Because underneath my forgiveness was the realization that I could no longer carry my anger and my hurt at the person who had hurt me. I couldn’t stand under that weight. It was an unburdening, an opportunity to be free from my own pain, rather than being free from the person’s offense. And I don’t know what that will look like. But I know that I need that forgiveness too much to withhold it any longer.
I would like to propose that forgiveness is not actionary, but reactionary. I am hoping that forgiving will mean that I place a lens between what the person I have forgiven does and how I respond to it. Because of my faith, I do believe that God’s grace is a part of that. But because of my biology, I think that there is a cognitive component to it. I don’t think forgiveness will simply happen. I think that I will have to choose, in every moment, to pass this person’s actions through that spiritual-rational lens and respond with grace and courtesy and love.
Today I resolve to forgive–not all at once and not by myself. But I will do it all the same. Because I cannot carry anger and darkness anymore. I need to make room for love and for light.