When I read that one of the most painful questions short of our own death is that of forgiveness, I was flashed back to a conversation I had with a friend who was on his death bed. He'd decided to stop taking the drugs that were keeping his cancer at bay, and face death with a dignity that was both fearless and inspiring. I sat with him on the morning of his transfer from the hospital where he was receiving treatment to the hospice where he would wait for death. I remember that asking him how he was feeling would have been a weird question. Instead I wanted to know what was going through his mind knowing that death was imminent, seconds away. A man who was so dignified on his death bed, whose grace was inspiring, to me, possessed a wisdom that I wanted to understand. My friend held my hand gently and told me this: I have forgiven all the people who caused me pain. If I could leave you with one lesson, it is this: forgive. Do not walk with a heavy heart. The lightness and peace that comes is the one that you want to live with everyday. It feels wonderful. Life has little worth, he said, if you don't forgive. My friend died three days later, but his words remain with me.
This is the time of year when on many people's resolutions list is that of forgiveness. It is both a simple act (and those who have forgiven understand how simple it is to just let go) but the process is often long, difficult, painful and complicated. One thing I know is that forgiving is not forgetting or excusing. It is deciding that you are no longer going to carry the pain of what happened in your life. That you will not allow the act that hurt you define you, hurt you, consume you, make you feel good or bad, or whatever. It is about ultimately feeling empowered that you will not let it happen again.
Atrocities, both on the mass scale and micro level happen all day, all the time. Cheating, betrayal, violence, lying. Unspeakable and horrific atrocities are happening as I write this post, as you read this blog. Human beings have been capable of horrid acts against each other. Slavery. Apartheid. Holocaust. The indigenous genocide that began with Columbus' arrival. How does one forgive? Is it important to forgive? Why even bother? Great minds have pondered this question; holy books are filled with these questions. Wives and husbands who have cheated, been cheated, beaten abandoned grapple with the issue. Children who have survived abuse, abandonment and violence. Siblings who have felt abused, betrayed.... It is an endless list of acts that leave havoc on the heart and soul... To forgive, to accept forgiveness, to ask for forgiveness, this is an everlasting human quest.
This is not the last entry that I will write on forgiveness, but I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, a gentle heart:
"I believe in memory, I don't believe in hatred, anger yes. Memory, learn from it, say: I don't want my past to become someone else's future."