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…?

9 responses

  1. Deep beyond measure.

    Words and emotions written out of love, self awareness, wisdom, and life experience are immeasurable to the eyes of this reader.  To forgive and forget is what makes our species great… although animals, it makes us far from its definition. In today’s evolving societ,y such words are and can easily be mistaken for normal & socially acceptable terms.  The words themselves are evolving into idioms said off the cuff.  From my perspective, it all comes down to the delivery.

    The eyes of this reader finds themselves amongst the older ones – the oldest one.  The beauty in life, this life, is that we grow, fail, and grow again.  Being a father myself, I know this all to be to true, and to know I have such a role in many lives.  As a father, my growth and experience falls on the shoulders of my young ones.  As it would be in the kitchen of the many fine chefs in this world, they started with what they knew and used it the very best they could and followed through with heart.  Now as they have grown many years wiser and are experienced, people wait to eat their creations, want to be around them, learn from this master of their artistry.  Such is life, such is the life of a father, but no matter how one cuts it, you can compare it to the start and learning to anything worth doing.  The most important thing behind any of it is and always has been, was to have heart.

    Only so many times in a father’s life can one take experience they learned the first time and change and adapt for the next time. I am soon to experience that for myself.  In many cases as a father fathers their children, they are but children themselves.  Most of them find opportunity later in life when their children become fathers, to live vicariously through them as fathers once again.  At that time, they have had years of life experience they can share, relive, teach, learn and grow again.  Far too many fathers don’t get the privilege to do it once again themselves as a new father a generation later. 

    With age comes wisdom, with opportunity comes learning, with wisdom and opportunity comes change in past actions.  Being the oldest, I know this to be true, being a father I know this to be fact. 

    As my older eyes gazed upon the words of my father, now to have my father’s eyes cast upon my words I say: I am the man, I am the person, I am the father I am because of you.  Knowing I was the first to be fathered by your young growing heart, is an honor… an honor that not everyone gets to experience, for that, I am grateful.   Whether in your wise memory it could have been better, would have could have done different, for me, the probable randomness of my sole being from another father, I feel beyond lucky. 

    Rest easy my father, you are wonderful in this reader’s eyes.

    March 12, 2010 at 9:31 am

    • Wow…. Yes, the hope is certainly that we gain wisdom as we age…and it is a rare opportunity, indeed, as a father, to get a second chance at doing things more appropriately for our little ones…in this case, the second batch of little ones. Another chance….

      Thank you, Josh.

      March 12, 2010 at 4:17 pm

  2. I just found this quote on another blog and thought it would be appropriate to add it here –

    “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it. – Mark Twain“

    March 13, 2010 at 10:05 am

  3. Nice post sir. Bottom line for me? Forgiveness can happen, but forgetting is impossible.

    March 13, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    • Thank you, Jason. I think you’re right about the forgetting part…and that makes me wonder about the forgiveness part…I don’t know.

      March 14, 2010 at 5:58 am

  4. Ahhh … I could read this time and time again. What an important question to ask.

    I love the paragraph that begins …”When we catch the reflection of ourselves or our deeds in the literal mirrors of our life or in the figurative ones of recollection …” It is reminiscent of the way each life is intertwined. And though we try to run from our transgressions, life has a way of reminding us of them through the people we meet, the events of the day or the valleys we travel.

    To me, the power of forgiveness lies on the labeling of the act. It is what we label as an act of transgression that leads to the eventual guilt we ascribe to it (and feel). Does this mean we can merely relabel the event/action and all the guilt goes away? No. But sometimes I ask myself “why I need forgiveness”. Have I hurt someone? Have I violated my own moral standards? Have I set my spiritual evolution back? Then I look at the act, and try to figure out what I learned from it and how/if I can change the behavior in the future.

    I try to see myself as an evolving being … needing to learn from the transgressions, needing to rise above the guilt, and needing to use my reaction for internal growth. Do I forgive? I am not sure … but I try to understand. And when we understand our actions, perhaps this leads to an eventual acceptance.

    Thanks for the post!

    March 14, 2010 at 9:24 am

    • Yes, a very important question…and thank you for your contributing response. Very nice. Sometimes it might come down to a decision…and no, a label won’t make guilt go away, but it might lessen the sting. It might allow the lesson to take hold. I like what you said about not being sure if you actually forgive, but that you try to understand, and that may lead to acceptance. Very nice. Thank you, Miss Anna…and you’re welcome….

      March 14, 2010 at 9:53 am

  5. Nathan

    Absolutely beautiful…….
    I can tell you that in my heart of hearts, I DO forgive you for the things you are unable to forgive yourself. Certainly, it is understandable that you hold yourself accountable, and that is perfectly reasonable and expected. Forgiveness comes when progress is made, when the same mistakes are not made again, and when you see that the individual that hurt you truly feels remorse and regret. The man you have become is a man I am proud to say is my Father, and my friend. Other misdeeds by others in my life may be unforgivable, or not. Maybe we can just forgive the naiveté or the ignorance, but not the misdeed itself, or not. Love for others requires acceptance of failures, and allowance for mistakes. You’ve made mistakes, I’ve made mistakes, others I love have made mistakes, but I still love you, and I love them. Anyhow…..those are my sagacious thoughts, for what they’re worth 🙂

    March 22, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    • Excellent thoughts…and thank you, truly, my loving, forgiving, and sagacious son.

      March 22, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Thank you for would be great to hear from you....

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.