Forgiveness isn't something that comes easily and it doesn't change the past. So why forgive? Doesn't it let off the person who has done you wrong?
One way to define forgiveness... as defined on an Oprah Winfrey episode, "Giving up the hope that the past could have been any different."
When we think about our pasts, are there any things we wish we could change? Is there any one we blame for the way things are now?
Recognizing our own lack of forgiveness is the start to freeing ourselves from past circumstances we cannot change.
One of the worst moments in my life was something I've alluded to in the headline under the title of this Blog:
My parents disowned me - rejected me at thirty - because I remembered our family history quite differently from how they remembered it. Their rejection hit me like a brick to the side of my head. But I guess it isn't in my DNA to hold a grudge. To be honest, once I got over the shock that they didn't want to see me, life became a little easier... I focused forward and managed the usual life challenges that came along without looking over my shoulder to see who in my family I was disappointing. Of course I would have preferred relationship, but the dysfunction in ours was pretty hampering, so it was a relief to avoid, at least at first. I'm pretty pragmatic.
Then my dad died, suddenly and without warning. He had an aneurysm - he passed out and never regained consciousness. My mother telephoned me to notify me of his funeral. It had been fourteen months since I'd spoken to her. He and I were never reconciled and I grieve that to this day, although the relationship between us was always strained and cool. I suppose the past I grieve more is the lack of relationship, rather than the broken one.
My dad was always distant, and the moments I remember most vividly were moments when he showed affection to our cat and when he showed distrust towards me. Once, when I was nine, the boy next door broke our basement window. When my dad heard the noise he came outside and asked what had happened. I tried to explain to my dad in some detail, but the boy said I'd done the deed and my father believed him. I never held a grudge, but I certainly cried. And it created a deep wound that lasted into my adulthood.
How is it that some people feel hurt and others bitter at injustice? Some of us internalize assault and others lash out, I guess. Or perhaps it just doesn't occur to some of us that we can be anything but a victim, while others harden to their pain and to the one they believe has wronged them. For me, I think it is the compassion I learned when bullied as a child at school that has helped me to understand that all of us are wounded and broken (I had no compassion for my assailants at the time, but plenty for other people who were isolated or unaccepted). I could see the goodness in my father, even if it was pointed at others rather than at me, and in adulthood I excused his lack of emotional warmth as the result of his own damage caused by the war (he was a WWII fighter pilot). For me, forgiveness in these things was never an issue, because I was engrossed in my own pain,trying to survive the shame and low self esteem, so there was no attention on blaming or resenting my father.
I would like to say that I feel deeply as I write this, but I don't. There is regret at what might have been if my father were emotionally available to me, but I'm aware he wasn't emotionally available to anyone - it wasn't the era for it and even if it were, he suffered post traumatic stress before they had a label for it - and that is something he couldn't change even if he wanted to. In fact, I can't say whether he would have wanted to change anything or not; I didn't know him well enough. But the fact that he couldn't be emotionally whole or available protects me from feeling responsible or hopeful, so perhaps that's why I bear no lack of forgiveness.
And it is because of forgiveness - a total lack of resentment - that I can say he was a good man. He wasn't a good father but I can separate his qualities as a person from his treatment toward me. Facts and detachment may not be as good as relationship, but they are better than blame or harshness.
I forgive my dad for his shortcomings. I forgive my mother for hers. I hope I'll be forgiven for mine by my son in years to come. But the key for me has been to look upon any other person as flawed just as I am, and to avoid building my expectations. In that way I avoid burdening others, avoid my own disappointment and overcome any temptation to hold onto hostility, bitterness or bitterness.
As I bid farewell until next week, I leave you with a pic of my dad - a highly intelligent, deeply wounded man who never had the opportunity that I have had to overcome the past.
Best to you until next Thursday.