From Whence Cometh Forgiveness?
The ages-old expression of “forgive and forget” is so hackneyed and overused and overextended that it is nigh unto empty in substance and possibility, me thinks. It might have meant something those many years ago when it was first uttered, but it seems to have lost its pizzazz as something that might have even the potential to mean anything today. Essentially, it offers that once we have forgiven someone for an offense, we no longer even remember it to hold it against them…or we disallow the sentiment of “being-hurt” from any and all situations or interactions with the person from that moment of “forgiveness” onward. Tell me how true that might be, really.
According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary (2008), forgive means “1) to give up resentment against or the desire to punish; stop being angry with; pardon 2) to give up all claim to punish or exact penalty for (an offense); overlook 3) to cancel or remit (a debt).” Forgiveness means “1) a forgiving or being forgiven; pardon 2) inclination to forgive or pardon.” And for this record, pardon means “1) to release (a person) from further punishment for a crime 2) to cancel or not exact penalty for (an offense); forgive 3a) to excuse or forgive (a person) for some minor fault, discourtesy, etc. b) to overlook (a discourtesy, etc.).” And finally, forget means “1) to lose (facts, knowledge, etc.) from the mind; fail to recall; be unable to remember 2) to fail to do, bring, etc. as because of carelessness; overlook, omit, or neglect unintentionally 3) to overlook, omit, or neglect intentionally.”
We have all done things that we shouldn’t have done, some on purpose and some by accident. The ones that we did on purpose must have had a rather compelling or selfish reason to lead us into that spot of knowingly doing something that was wrong, inappropriate, or would bring hurt, shame, or embarrassment to someone else…yet we did it. And then the errors that we committed accidentally likely came from acting out of ignorance (not being stupid, just not knowing), as in miscommunication of one manner or another, or misunderstanding of a person or of the rules or of a situation, or something else of that nature, and sometimes because we didn’t have the skill or weren’t otherwise prepared to handle the situation correctly or in the best manner.
When we intentionally do something wrong, how serious can our confession and request for forgiveness be when our mindset was or is, “I got mine, and the rest be damned.” How much contrition can exist in the aftermath of that intentionally wrought situation? What are we actually sorry for…the damage and hurt that was done…or the fact that we got caught or identified as the one who committed the offending act?
I have wondered in my wondering at forgiveness and the passing of time. How do we really forgive someone or ourselves for the transgressions and/or sins that we have had committed against us or have cast upon those others in our lives. Does forgiveness actually occur, or does the sting of the offense just weaken with time and no longer affect us as strongly or as deeply as it once did? And if forgiveness actually does happen, where does it come from; when there is no God, what is its origin, or where does it lie in its hiding place within us? Further, is forgiveness simply a socially constructed notion, or do we find it necessary as a species in order to continue our corporeal existence? Part of me thinks it falls into the altruism debate arena – we do things for the group that help the individual survive…while that individual’s survival efforts also keeps him from forgetting what was done so he can keep a watchful eye for further transgressions that may threaten his emotional or physical survival. I wonder….
We say we forgive others and we tell others that we have forgiven them and we know inside ourselves that to be forgiven, sometimes, to actually feel the forgiveness that others have offered to us, we have to first forgive ourselves for those sins and crimes and wrong-doings and shortcomings and offenses and then…but does it really happen and can it really happen? When we observe a certain body movement of someone else or ourselves, or an averted eye and the hang of the hair or the non-remark that combines with a lamp’s glow or the sun’s reflection or a numbered day of a calendar’s month…or even just the inarticulate soul’s corporeal memory…to remind you or me of the moment of a committed or revealed sin…it seems that forgiveness is gone again in that stormed memory from the hinterland of our recollection…it has come to the forefront of that battleground, that place of unease and fright and hate and…we hang ourselves again on the cross of our making, not as martyrs, but as self-convicted vagabonds, and we bleed again in our fury at ourselves for the committed act or touch or spoken word or neglect or look or printed offense or whatever…and we are un-forgiven again.
When we catch the reflection of ourselves or our deeds in the literal mirrors of our life or in the figurative ones of recollection and we see again that someone in the eyes of ourselves and our Selves and we’re reminded of that other person who reminds us of another person who reminds us of the act or deed or injurious word, the stripes break open again and bleed in their viscous fluids of remorse and shame…we see that black-breathed monster of guilt, again, leaning on and into our shoulders, driving its fiery talons into and through the muscle and sinew and substance of our souls. We don’t want to live in the past, but this is about forgiveness and moving-on…but the wounds don’t really heal completely…the tissues that have started to heal in their forming of scars are still tender and easily inflamed and torn anew…they simply are.
I watch my children and reflect on the father that I was to them, the young ones and older ones. I reflect upon what I was and wasn’t in their young and tender lives and I evaluate how I’m what I am to them today because of what I was and wasn’t to them in the past, my older ones, and I wonder if the difficulties they have in relationships with each other and others are a result of the difficulties that we had, that I had, when they were younger, when they were under my direct hand and influence…under my wrath and disregard. I wonder how their lives would have been different, how they would be different, if my hands and words were as gentle then as they mostly are with my younger ones today. I wonder, here, at forgiveness and how it can truly exist. How it can exist from me to my parents, my father, when I see things in my adult children that seem to reflect the way I treated them when they were kids…and those things that are being repeated unto their children, or not. And when I gaze at my older ones and feel the absence of what I missed with them, but found for my younger ones…it becomes hard to forgive myself again, it becomes hard to forgive my parents again, my father again. I ponder the words of “We did the best we could,” or “I did the best I could,” and wonder at the lameness of those words. I wonder at their lameness when I imagine myself saying them to my kids today or down the road and when I compare my uttering them to my hearing them from my parents…and I know that they are lame. They suck ass…they are weak and fraught with excuse and displaced blame, deflection of responsibility…and shame. I would like to blame them. I would like to lay the burdens from that part of my life down at their feet, and at their parents’ feet and say that it’s not my fault, it’s theirs…and sometimes I do. Sometimes I give them the responsibility for harm and disease and poisonous parenting…and I know that I learned it from them, from their modeling, behaving, their hard hands and words…but I’m still the one who did it to my own kids. I’m the one who didn’t cherish and adore them when they were little, the older ones. And regret is harsh, and forgiveness tries to come to me in their embraces of today and greetings of “I love you” with their piercing or averted eyes and special occasion cards…and it makes me feel more guilty and undeserving and loathsome and un-forgiving of myself and my parents and….
So…from whence cometh forgiveness, today and then…?