By Ritu Bhatia January 2004 Forgiveness means acknowledging the pain, but also that you are willing to let go of that hurt and move on The statement ‘to forgive and forget’ had been sitting in my head for many years before I even began to contemplate what it meant. As a child one had to ‘forgive’ slights inflicted by other children, petty meanness and the more extreme treatments meted out by adults intended ‘for your own good’. You were supposed to cry a bit and then simply get over it. Sometimes it took longer to recover—harsh words lingered in the memory, scenes replayed themselves like a movie, and the sadness of an unpleasant encounter wouldn’t go away. Over time, the hurt lessened. With every passing year, however, betrayals seemed to increase; I felt let-down by friends, lovers, and family; burglars made off with precious belongings—even a car once—and I was left by myself, numb-brained, wondering what the best form of retaliation was. Processing each event was too difficult an exercise to contemplate. It meant I would have to face the situation and person squarely, and experience the intense pain that went with it. For the relationship to continue, I would have to confront another with my feelings. It was far too terrifying a prospect, so I simply collected all my resentments, until my heart felt like a pressure cooker. Relatively recently, I have learned that forgiveness is not about pretending that what has happened is all right. That what you or another did doesn’t matter. It’s about acknowledging that what happened was painful, that you were hurt, but that you are willing to let go of that hurt. Because that wound can act like a roadblock, preventing your movement forward. Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa wrote in No Future Without Forgiveness: “Forgiving and being reconciled are not about pretending that things are other than what they are. It is not patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the pain, the degradation, the truth…. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end dealing with the real situation helps to bring about real healing.” Considering how daunting a task this is—real forgiveness—how many of us have the courage for this? A genuine conversation must take place here, to be able to turn away from those acid feelings that corrode everything between you and another. Talking about forgiving and forgetting until we have ourselves experienced the sort of pain needed to be ready to forgive, even if not forget, is mere rhetoric. Watching a show the other day, I was struck by the power of forgiveness. A woman was stuck at work and called her best friend for help with picking her daughter up from school. As they were driving back, the car met with an accident in which the child died. The two women grieved together and continued to be friends. The grieving mother’s explanation? “It was an accident. I could have been at the wheel instead of her. She loved my daughter, she loves me. Why should I prosecute her? It was bad enough to lose one person dear to me.” Such examples of forgiveness are exceptional. Yet they provide us with hope. Living is a difficult enough business anyway. Hanging on to bad feelings doesn’t help. Perhaps this is reason enough to forgive? At the end of the day forgiveness is what you do for yourself, not for another. It’s about giving oneself permission to move on with one’s life and give up the sadness and anger to make way for peace and joy to enter.
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