We are in the twilight of the season of goodwill, the season where we reconnect. We are to be good and generous, we embrace family and friends, old and new, and spread good tidings and kindness. Everything is amplified in two weeks of love and understanding and supposed to be a peppermint flavour of perfect.
But, thankfully, life is not perfect and with reconnection comes memories, good and bad. We realise that some wounds have healed, some are nicked open, and forgiving, and forgiveness, can be a huge challenge during this period. A mince pie and gulp of mulled wine do not always help the spiky swallow of anger or pain in the name of Christmas.
What is forgiveness?
You wrong me, I wrong you. Whatever the response to either of these is where forgiveness lies.
Forgiveness is hope. And about how much you care about the person, and they for you. The absolute key is the acknowledgment of the hurt. Then to apologise and to try to learn from it, and behave better. The simple act of looking one in the eye, saying ‘I am so sorry’ and meaning it, can be all it takes. If there is an admission of responsibility, an asking for forgiveness, repentance, gestures to show atonement and a promise to do better – these can all be gateways to healing and forgiveness.
But this is really the best case scenario. For most, it can be a path of ignoring it, pretending it hasn’t happened until you or they have forgotten, or ultimately do not care anymore. Because who the hell wants to think about what a vile human they have been? Often the victim is left with only an ocean of pain and unanswered questions. If the person who hurt you took steps to acknowledge the hurt and rectify the pain, then reassurance and respect is likely to be restored. And healing can begin. Therein lies the hope.
But what of forgiveness?
Why do we need it? What is it? And why do some seem better at it than others? Most seem better at it than I am, this much I know. But I also know some who have hung on to old hurts for so long they might have forgotten the very reason they are angry. Yet a lifetime might have been wasted without a sister or friend or parent or potential great love where healing could have occurred.
Forgiveness is complex, awkward, difficult, heart-breaking and cathartic. We are all usually in the process of trying to forgive, or being forgiven. And often, trying to forgive ourselves. Without it, however, there is no hope. Anger strangles hope like a suffocating weed.
You can walk into any book shop and struggle to choose from the hundreds of books about forgiveness. Self-help gurus, priests, philosophers, TV will all profess the answers on what makes a thing forgivable or unforgivable, but it seems the act of forgiveness is ultimately a good, good thing for your body, mind and soul. For you.
‘Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be any different.’
I heard this during a time when forgiveness was the last thing on my mind. I had been betrayed by someone I loved and who loved me. I was angry and hurt and the whole gamut of things that comes with the devastation of a pain of the heart, inflicted. He had broken my trust and though we stayed together, I realised that while I could forgive with my body, when my trust was broken I could not forget with my heart or my mind. You cannot lie to either. I was more of the mindset that Beckett might be onto something in ‘Malone Dies’:
‘Let us say before I go any further, that I forgive nobody. I wish them all an atrocious life in the fires of icy hell and in the execrable generations to come.’ – Beckett
But I soon realised carrying around a pool of caustic, acrid acid like that wasn’t getting me anywhere and the voodoo dolls and listening to ‘Since U Been Gone’ gets a bit old. The relationship did come to an end eventually and I realised, ultimately, those we can struggle to forgive aren’t usually being hurt by our lack of forgiveness. And, on reflecting on pains or hurts I have experienced, it often, sadly, comes to the point where you do not actually care enough about the person anymore. Friends from primary school, an old boyfriend in secondary school who I was convinced Damien Rice had written ‘O’ just for our break-up, an old boss who took credit for my work, a friend who let me down, an old colleague who I found out had spoken about me behind my back. On and on, but when I reflect on most of them, I do not actually care enough to care much at all anymore. The people you care most about will be the ones you forgive, because you believe in them. And the ones that care about you will do the same. Get on with living. The pain taught you a lesson. About trust, about love, about human nature, about greed or jealousy, about ruthlessness or spite. The lesson is the hard-won silver lining.
Disciple or doormat
Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. But where does the line between forgiveness stop and being a doormat begin? When does turning the other cheek mean you have become a punch bag? It’s all down to your own heart and listening to it. Champion forgivers might be happier, more compassionate, but what about that prick down the road whose bat-crazy dog bit you and he insisted it was your fault? He didn’t say sorry and I don’t think he deserves forgiveness. Am I lacking in compassion? Perhaps rising above it all depends on the depth of the pain and how much you care about the person.
This is usually more difficult and complicated than forgiving someone else. Labouring through the murky Hades of forgiving yourself will often throw up self-loathing, shame and guilt you feel you can never atone for. Shame is one of the most corrosive things for our souls buried beneath layers of other rubbish in the cesspit of memories. Swallowing your own shame can hide in a spot so deep it might only pop out in a nightmare or in the half-light of the sub-conscious when you are reminded of something you wish you had never done. And then we numb it. We all screw up. We are all beautiful and messy and ugly and bitchy and angry and greedy and unloving and loving. We are human. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it, say sorry and mean it, and learn from it. Forgive yourself, forgive yourself, forgive yourself.
Move on up
So, on forgiveness. There are no answers, except your own heart. Time helps, but the biggest antidote is hope. How much the person matters to you will also help in how they fit back into your life, or you into theirs. To your own self be true, and follow the hope. You deserve it.
Bliain úr faoi mhaise, wishing you a very happy new year x