When I was in my early 20s, I developed a bad case of resentment about forgiveness. My reasoning was straightforward and fairly simple. I saw the act of forgiveness as being equivalent to saying: “Even though you are a bad person who does bad things, I, being a superior and virtuous person, am willing to forgive you for the terrible things you have done.”
Okay, so I exaggerated a little. But it isn’t far off the mark, at least for the only brand of forgiveness I was accustomed to at that time. It seemed to me that it was at best holier-than-thou, and at worst wholy arrogant, insulting, and even hypocritical. That fit perfectly with those I had known who talked about it most. I wanted nothing to do with it, or anyone who thought it was a good thing.
My approach was simpler. I don’t care one whit what you have done. What I’m interested in is whether there is any plausible reason why I should believe you’re not going to do it again. Give me that, and we’re okay.
(fast forward several years)
After I had begun my education in metaphysics and had some time to expand it out in many directions, I revisited forgiveness. My whole perspective had changed. I now looked at the word itself: for- and give. I saw the for part as meaning before or prior to, and the give part, well giving. So my interpretation of what the word meant literally was to give in advance. But what?
After a lot of thought, I came to the conclusion that forgiveness is giving to someone, in advance, your permission and/or endorsement to be exactly who they are. In other words, it is not something you do after an offense has been committed, but rather something you do before it has. If you do it well, the offense will not be necessary and won’t actually happen. It is meant as a preventive, not a remedy. I liked that much, much better.
But I was not going to let myself off the hook with that, though it was quite an improvement. Not yet.
(fast forward several more years)
I came to a time in my life when I felt it was time to direct my creative energy toward writing a novel. But there were problems. The main one was that everyone says–and always has as far as I can tell–that a good plot needs to have tension and conflict to propel it along. Usually, that conflict is between characters, and most popular of all between good and evil.
However, I wanted nothing to do with good and evil. Nor did I want to keep company with the kinds of mindless characters that are usually pitted against one another in the pitiable struggle for survival, dominance, or destruction that is usually chosen by writers. I needed to find a new kind of plot, one in which there was stress and tension, but of a creative nature, and within conscious, growing individuals who ended up better than they started. Yes, they could act some of this out in their relationships. And yes, there might be periods of doubt, or even despair, as to their ultimate success.
But to satisfy my design criteria, everyone had to successfully navigate their own personally created obstacles course, and they had to come out the other end significantly better for the experience. Better yet, they had to end up thanking those who may have seemed like their adversaries during the thick of it.
Now, I’d never read a book like that, so I was at a loss for templates, patterns, or role models to follow. I had to wing it. What I finally came up with, after years of consideration, was the story I called When Gulls Fly Low. I’m not going to spoil it for you by telling you details of the characters or plot. I’m not that big a fool. But I can now tell you about how forgiveness–you remember forgiveness? That’s what this is supposed to be about, right?–how forgiveness became an integral, yet almost invisible, part of it all.
Perhaps I can use a brief quote from the book that was chosen by one reviewer to illustrate why she called it the best book on forgiveness she had ever read.
Henry, the protagonist, is talking another character, Josie. They have been adversaries until now, but she has now had a personal revelation that has caused her to remove herself as an obstacle in his life. She is surprised that he does not take the opportunity to gloat at having “dethroned the old battle-ax.”
“I am only trying to be who I most want to be. That is, in fact, how I try live my life. Yes, I could have held a grudge against you. But what purpose would that have served? How could I possibly have benefited from that? It would have created an unbridgeable gap between me and the mother of the woman I love; it would have brought the problems of having to make war with you down upon my new family; it would have brought no joy to anyone on this Earth. How could I make such a choice knowing all of that?”
Josie replied, “Perhaps that is the key, Henry. You did know all of that. I suppose it is only when we do not see the rest of the picture, when we become obsessed with those powerful emotions, that we fail to recognize the folly of our choices in time to prevent it.”
To my way of thinking, and the reviewer’s, this exchange is about Henry’s approach to what other’s might call forgiveness. Note that there is one word conspicuous in its absence: forgive or any of its relatives. Why? Because they are unnecessary. In fact, they would just get in the way.
From a somewhat higher philosophical perspective, it is even simpler. The reason for the very existence of the concept of forgiveness is based on the presumption that one person can come crashing into the life of another and do “bad things,” intentionally or otherwise. I reject that premise entirely. If we each create our own reality, and are therefore totally responsible for its contents, then the only possible person we could ever forgive is ourselves.
And if I accept, as I do, that even I am not capable of harming or injuring myself, despite appearances to the contrary, then even the self is beyond the need for forgiveness. All those things that might appear to be candidates for self-forgiveness are really just strokes of genius the brilliance of which as yet escapes my conscious minds. And even that is not a bad thing, because afterward I can always see how knowing about it too soon would have ruined the entire effect. For that I am rightfully grateful.
So, as the title of this piece states: Forgive Me Not. Bless me, thank me, learn from me. But do not commit an act of spiritual violence by blaming, then forgiving me, and casting yourself in the impotent role of a poor, helpless victim. There ain’t no such a thing, and I won’t pretend there is. I love you too much.Please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to have your contribution. Live well and be happy