In all my (almost) 38 years on Earth, one individual came close to never receiving my forgiveness. Having not only inserted himself uninvited into my life, the results of his actions detonated my biggest dreams and obliterated my life to the point of rebuilding from foundation. Examining this 15 years later, I realized that somewhere along the way I forgave him.
Yet, this man exemplifies but one of many for whom I boiled a grudge. Stewed silently as they continued to prosper. In no way am I a model for tranquility. For too long, the dark harbor of my being ported an abundance of black-flagged ships. These deeply anchored vessels nurtured the noonday demon and its lesser but no less powerful acolytes. The only way out appeared to be down, so I dove.
Indiscretions accumulated for more than a decade. A few traced their roots much further. Nothing discernable remained of my childhood faith. No amount of “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” made up the distance. My descent continued.
To the casual acquaintance and most assuredly life’s passers-by, I projected a jovial nonchalance. Education followed knowledge; success came along with, and few would pronounce me anything other than a good man. I do not believe this to be untrue, but I do know it to be slightly inaccurate.
When I finally came to the realization that a world of difference existed between truly good and mostly good, life began to change. For me, the shift needed to happen regarding forgiveness. Neither was this fast nor easy, and the process… continual.
If I develop bad feelings toward those who make me suffer, this will only destroy my own peace of mind. But if I forgive, my mind becomes calm. -H.H. Dalai Lama
THE TWO STORIES
Enmity between persons represents one of the most poignant types of story. Animus between oneself and oneself tops all. To repair conflict of the former variety requires first an address of the latter. Working the other way around supplements a patch over control.
My self insisted upon starting with an acknowledgment about internal rules of engagement. Fixing chronic depression, severe anxiety, and persistent PTSD (among other mental health concerns) failed to be a simple, magic bullet option. Thus, I flipped my blind focus on external loci of control to internal. Marcus Aurelius aided me in this.
If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
One raging battle after another, I find myself still struggling with the conditions yet able to reign in my reactions. Not perfectly. Still far better than I imagined possible. By embracing the aid available to me, the dark harbor is no longer so full.
Releasing the dock ties inside my head, I dealt (and deal) more rapidly with disembarking the fleet. Drawing a line of embargo, a blockade, helped immensely. This allowed, allows a reparation of stagnant relationships — even if the forgiveness remains private or never manifests in return.
ACCOMPLISHING THE TASK
Acknowledging St. Matthews words that the gate is narrow and path difficult that leads to (essentially) forgiveness is a great start. Almost all of us possess a dark place within where the grudges of life and time fester. Emptying the place requires herculean effort. How may it be done?
- If tucked amongst your grudges rest issues about which you can do nothing let them go. The objects of your disdain likely do not know. If they do, so what? You cannot control that which is beyond you — especially others. Clutching to such precious poison degrades only you.
- Remember: forgiveness does not necessarily equate with exoneration. You may forgive things without forgetting them. The same is true of others regarding you. Sometimes, those issues leading to the desire to or want of forgiveness still demand penance. (Mind, not the giving/receiving of forgiveness but the payment for destruction so egregious that penalty is a necessity.)
- Be wary: not forgetting leaves a seed. This seed germinates, bears new fruit for good or ill, in direct proportion to the act forgiven. Neurologically, forgetting may be impossible, even dangerous. Though where forgiveness becomes involved forgetting means something deeper and more esoteric. In these cases, to forget blurs the line between forgiveness and the way a memory is viewed. Forgetting requires turning the experience upside and finding a different perspective of the whole. This type of forgetting is necessary for a fuller life.
FORGING NEW PATHWAYS
I find the act of forgiving the murderer of one’s family, one’s rapist, one’s abuser awe inspiring. Whether such capacity exists in me remains untested. Yet despite their forgiveness, most of these individuals never forget a price must be paid by the forgiven. Healthy, appropriate, the seed left behind is one of safety and good judgement.
Inversely, my past contains loss and pain due to machinations of others but at far less egregious levels. (Others’ pasts contain the same due to me.) Betrayed trust, misunderstandings, job loss, pitiful acts of self-indulgence. All leave wounds of varying depths where the plunge to forgiveness — much less forgetfulness — seems impossible. Yet to not forget in these cases is to allow cancerous lingering of the past to devalue and dilute the present.
In the very near past, I again faced a situation that once brought to my attention had spiraled beyond my control. Others established the rules and determined the outcome. Astonishingly, I realized forgiveness given before the situation ever played to completion. I “forgot” within just a few days. And, while I hope that friendships and connections may remain intact with forgiveness on all sides, my peace neither requires nor demands a return of the same.
No conjury exists to grant forgiveness. No jugglery allows forgetting to be simplistic. Both require sacrifice and selflessness. Though if we be able to gain even basic mastery, we forge new pathways to a calmer mind, to peace.