Wrestling with Forgiveness

I had a discussion recently with a dear friend about forgiveness and pain. Namely, what to do with them.

Do you occasionally say something like “I’m a good person but if you cross me, I’ll crush you”? I heard someone say that recently.

Do you hold grudges? Do you nurse memories that serve no other purpose than to be held over the heads of others, be it something they said years ago or something foolish they did when they were younger?

I know plenty of people who live by those axioms and yet would be considered good people (and largely are, otherwise I wouldn’t be their friend). I know one of those people well, because that was me and could be again if I’m not careful. Like so many others, I did nice things and I said nice things and had the best of intentions, then turned around and thought over wrongs I had suffered and feelings that had been hurt.

Every time my pride was wounded, the scar was worst because I continually picked at it to remind myself of the pain. There are even a few things now in my life about which this is true, and one person whom I am trying harder than anything I’ve ever tried to let go of what they did to me.

In my darker moments I have wished nothing less than to obliterate their happiness so utterly that they would live forever after in despair. I can tell myself that it’s understandable that I want them to suffer so completely.

I suppose so. Every day I wake up is a choice not to exact revenge, and this person will never know how close they came to having their entire lives obliterated. There have been a few times where the whisper has been there, telling me that it wouldn’t be so bad. It gets easier over time as you learn to accept it.

There was only one thing that stopped me when I had the best chance, to be honest. Some don’t like to hear it, but if it hadn’t been for the love of God, I would have been so painful and exacting as to have shattered lives. Nothing physical and nothing prosecutable would have happened. Just a few choice moves and this person would have laid before me a smoking ruin, knowing that it was I who had destroyed them.

And it all starts with that mentality at the top of the slippery slope, that you can be a good person and still hate. You slide further down with the idea that you can be a good person and still be vengeful, that it’s OK to hold onto past pain and act upon it.

I reject that completely. At least I’m trying to do so. I refuse any longer to be one of the people whom I’ve seen reject it only when it’s a matter of someone else’s anger directed at them. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, right?

Right.

I reject it also because there have been enough people that through time I’ve hurt, either in word or deed, intentionally or unintentionally, and by the same reasoning had every right to hurt me back. For a select few I wouldn’t even blame them if they chose after all these years to strike at me still. I know because I used to use that pain within me as both an excuse to act if ever I chose and because, as I suspect for many of us, I identified pain as a validation. I suffered and so it was right of me to complain or be bitter; it gave me edges I could call my own instead of the fuzzy boundaries of happiness. I suffered and so I had the right to be self-serving, to eat excessively or to smoke like a chimney, without anyone telling me otherwise.

After all, I suffered and so had a better understanding of the world, right?

Wrong. The biggest pain now is realizing the error of that thinking and how I managed to hold myself down through it. Pain and anger are natural, but what we do with them is our decision. If we decide to use them to strike out and lay our enemies low we’re only striking at ourselves. Pride is what makes you take revenge, humility is what makes you accept that sometimes the better part of valor is letting the battle go.

So be humble. Because the flip side of the pride that fuels anger is the one that fuels your thinking that you are better than those that hurt you by virtue of the fact that you endured it. You’re not above getting a little pain delivered to you and you’re not so special as to avoid it. If someone hurts or rejects you, maybe you have the opportunity to reassess and address anything that was a shortcoming. Take the opportunity to avoid assigning fault and see what you can do to rise above and improve yourself so that the next time pain comes you can accept it and know what to do.

Have a mind like water. If something diverts you, find a way around it.

Anger really creates a vicious cycle that results in keeping pain alive longer and crushing your own self esteem. Just ask Anakin Skywalker – so obsessed with revenge for perceived insult and actual injury that he drove away the only people that ever truly loved him. (That’s right, I brought Star Wars into it. How does that make you feel?)

So I’m going to Soft Parade, as Jim Morrison suggested. Change it from the inside out.

I’ve worked to change myself, I’m working to lead by example and help others see the way out. That there’s no point being limited by pain. Accept it and deal with it, learn from it. Let it be a part of you and accept that it will be there always; pain can’t be taken away with the wave of a magic wand, it defines us and makes us who we are (as suggested by the great philosopher James T. Kirk when he debated Sybock).

Over time and with help you can move forward before it’s too late and you become the very person you can’t stand to be around.

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6 thoughts on “Wrestling with Forgiveness

    1. And all your bitching about the DC metro system. The DC metro system kept me from getting DUI’s. I don’t have the luxury of public transportation out here.

  1. “To err is human, to forgive divine”.

    Forgiveness is perhaps the hardest aspect of divinity for people to grasp. I think it’s because in whatever mistakes another has made, we see our own capacity for making (not necessarily the same) mistakes.

    We desire forgiveness for our own mistakes/shortcomings, but do not expect it, due to an increasing cynicism that exists in our society. As such, we are less willing to extend that same forgiveness.

    Easier to not rock the boat, if I might mix a metaphor, than to be the snowflake that starts the avalanche.

    Finding some kind of ersatz forgiveness is sometimes the best we can hope for. It’s imperfect, but we are, after all imperfect beings (as you well know, John, using a Star Trek V reference).

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