To Err is Human, to forgive Divine
I thought I was pretty good on forgiveness. Even my brother who was pretty savvy with people once said to me (regarding a decade-long argument with a family member), ‘I wish I could forgive it but I can’t, I haven’t got the grace to do it. I wish I had your grace, you manage to forgive people, even for the most awful things’. At the time I would have agreed – now I am not so sure.
I would say that I am mostly pretty good on forgiveness. If someone gives me an apology for something I usually take it and mean it. I also believe I can recognise flaws in my own interactions with others and will apologise readily and mean it.
But what if someone has done something so bad, so terrible, with such long-lasting effects that you simply cannot find it within you to forgive?
“To err is human, to forgive divine”, said Pope in his poem An Essay on Criticism. On one hand, I would agree – we all make mistakes and we could all use a little forgiveness. Sometimes our behaviour is understandable, there are real and valid reasons why someone acts in a certain way. It could be upbringing, it could be mental illness, a traumatic event, it could be a lack of social skills. Oftentimes the knowledge of these things does indeed allow us to forgive because we can understand the reasons why something happened.
On the other hand, a reason is not the same as an excuse. Repeating the same behaviour over and over again when one could have dealt with it the first, second or even third time, pretty much negates the reason as an excuse in my book. Systematic abuses of people over decades, being repeatedly left as a result of this and still not looking at oneself, still blaming someone else, anyone else, again removes any possibility of using any reason to excuse yourself.
So I repeat: Yes, there are reasons, but having a reason is not an excuse, it does not excuse it or exempt one from the responsibility for or the consequences of that action, and we still need to atone or make good for what we have done, if indeed that option is still open to us.
I’ve tried, I really have. I actually believed for a long time I had succeeded. I maintained polite relations with this person. I accepted a half-hearted apology. ‘I must have really hurt you and if I did I am sorry’, all the time looking confused about what one could possibly have done that was so bad, despite having been told probably hundreds of times over a decade. This is a half-arsed apology in my book and merely becomes self-seeking and irrelevant when used to precede an attempt at reconciliation. But that said, I thought I’d accepted the apology and moved on. I was wrong. I’m still angry and the fact that they thought I was so stupid that I was going to give them another go at destroying me just makes it worse.
Some things I can remember as clear as day (mostly things I don’t really want to) and others I cannot recall at all. This is distressing because my children will remind me of things and I genuinely have no clue what they are talking about. It isn’t that they can expand and I go ‘oh yeah, I remember now’. It simply isn’t there in a place I can get to it.
I know I could go and see someone, get these memories back but if I have repressed good memories I have obviously repressed them alongside something not so good. What if the stuff I can’t remember is actually worse than the stuff I can? Do I want to deal with those and the inevitable fall-out that would occur?
What makes it worse is watching them come out of every situation smelling of roses, twisting the truth so they are the perpetual victim. So I cut the ties as far as I can and I try to remove them, expunge them from my psyche.
I’m not even sure why this is all coming up at a point where I have been away from the situation almost as long as I was in it. I want to cry as I write this but tears just will not come.
And so, forgiveness is just not in me for this particular person.
I hope it comes soon, I’ve had enough of them.
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