F is for Forgiveness
I had considered fiction, or fangirl, but I’ve been waving my geek pride flag pretty hard, and I think you can take it as read that it all started with books. So I’m going to talk about something that’s less fun. It’s personal, it might be a downer, feel free to skip it and come back tomorrow for a lighter post.
I’ve already posted about living with depression (sorry, that sounds awfully grim, as though it’s a euphemism for dying… it’s not) and that feeds very heavily into my personal experience of forgiveness, so your mileage might vary.
Last summer I read Simon Wiesenthal’s “The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness“. I highly recommend it, but I’m not going to go over that material here. Instead, I’m going to talk about the importance of forgiveness in my own life.
I realized my father was actually dying before he told me, because he didn’t take the bait and start another round of our father/daughter power struggle and button pushing contest. Of course, I already knew he had cancer. A little bit later he told me it had metastasized to his liver and the prognosis wasn’t good. That’s the closest to a euphemism he ever got, but I’m not going to make this entire post about my father. The point is that he made it very clear that if there was anything unresolved from my childhood, anything at all, he was open to talking it out, explaining, whatever I needed to be at peace with it, and with him.
I didn’t take him up on it, not really. I knew he meant it (our relationship was occasionally dramatic, but I never doubted his love), but I didn’t want our final time together to be full of tears or accusations, and I didn’t have the emotional energy to really figure out what I would need to ask. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I did figure it out, and at that point I had to content myself with knowing that, if I had asked the questions, he would have given me honest answers. It was enough, and I could forgive, if not understand.
There are other major examples of times I could and could not forgive, and they both come down to pretty much the same thing. I have to have some understanding of why the breach happened, and I have to know that I mean enough to the other person that they will at least try to put it right. Sometimes a simple apology has been enough. Once I would have needed either a real explanation of what the person was thinking or for that person to seek (spiritual or psychological) help.
For me, it’s not a religious thing. Although I was raised ‘culturally Jewish’ my family didn’t practice an annual ritual of atonement. I always assumed that forgiveness was something that the offending party needed to rid him or herself of the shame of having wronged someone. I don’t feel that way any more.
If I wrong someone, and I know it, I need to apologize, honestly, in order to deal with that shame. My apology does not obligate forgiveness, or even ‘acceptance’ of the apology. The most it obliges the recipient to is an acknowledgement. If there is something further the person I have wronged needs to forgive me, and I don’t think it’s immoral or excessive, then I will do what I can to give them that thing.
You see, if someone wrongs me forgiveness is not something I owe them. It’s something I need to do in order to keep them, and their offending action, from poisoning my thoughts during the day and my dreams at night. I know this sounds melodramatic, but I’m not talking about the little day-to-day transgressions, just the big stuff. It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does happen it interacts with the underlying depression in a nasty way.
Forgiveness can help keep the ice weasels away.