You know what’s tough about being a Christian? The part about forgiving and loving your enemy. It feels weak and doormattish, or as Mark Twain put it, “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Mahatma Ghandi has a great rebuttal, however: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
You forgive for three reasons: it’s better for you, better for the forgiven, and it’s better for the world—every bit of hate/every bit of forgiveness counts. Ghandi also taught us, “We need to be the hope we wish to see in the world.” If I want the world to be peaceful and forgiving, then I must be peaceful and forgiving. That doesn’t mean I don’t learn from the past and use that knowledge to build a safer, happier future. It just means that I try to let go any anger and pain attached to past wrongs. So here goes.
The people I forgive:
The mean kids I grew up with, whose methods of torture ranged from throwing my clothes in the shower during gym class to violence, mocking jokes, skits and even a theme song. (More about this on Day 8.)
The students who insulted and/or assaulted me when I taught in the Bronx. All I wanted to do was help them. All they wanted was…a million things and none—whatever was running through their heads at any particular moment. To feel safe. To vent all their frustrations in life on a safe person: me. Students, I forgive you.
Mr. B—I described our breakup on this blog years ago. I cared about and trusted him. He accused me of deceiving him when I did not. I realize now that it was about his inability to trust, not my untrustworthiness. Though his issue hurt me, it wasn’t ABOUT me. Ex-boyfriend, I forgive you.
The employer who tied me in knots. She was just trying to do her job, jumping through bureaucratic hoops— hoops that coincidentally tightened around me neck. The fact is, we both wanted the same thing: safe, happy, well-educated students. We just had different ideas about how to achieve that goal. Former boss who took a chance on me and gave me a job, I forgive you.
The guys who burglarized me, breaking into my apartment and stealing my DVDs, my cameras, my jewelry and more. BOO! I miss my stuff! But I survived the loss of my stuff, just I my family survived the loss of a bunch of our other stuff in the tornado. I love my stuff and find it comforting, but I don’t NEED most of it. Thieves who reminded me of that, I forgive you.
The pickpocket frat boys who stole my wallet in Solas, my favorite NYC bar, and used the info on my ID to mess with my head before taking off. Violated on so many levels! Stupid frat boys, I forgive you. Okay, not entirely yet, but I’m still working on it.
The guy who attacked me at a party in college. I managed to fight him off, but I occasionally suffer symptoms of PTSD, including a couple times while kissing a boyfriend I had flashbacks that left me crying and hysterical. Those moments—scared in the arms of a man I loved—I was so angry. Carrying that anger around is exhausting. It doesn’t hurt the attacker; it only hurts me. I forgive you, bit-by-bit. It’s a struggle, but I keep trying.
Other creepy guys who’ve pushed too far: you make being a woman feel scary and lonely. Stop it! That said, I forgive you for your past icky, slimy, grabby come-ons. That said: cut it out!
Okay, forgiving the last three on the list—guys who made me feel vulnerable and violated—it’s not as easy as saying, “I forgive you!” Or maybe it would be if I let it. Maybe I’m afraid of violet forgiveness: sweet, velvety and crushed.
In "Forgiveness - The Power to Change the Past," an article in the January 7, 1983 issue of Christianity Today, 7 Lewis B. Smedes wrote, “Forgiving is love's toughest work, and love's biggest risk. If you twist it into something it was never meant to be, it can make you a doormat or an insufferable manipulator. Forgiving seems almost unnatural. Our sense of fairness tells us people should pay for the wrong they do. But forgiving is love's power to break nature's rule.”
Ghandi said that forgiveness is the purview of the strong, but Smedes remind us that it is also their privilege: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”