Thomas Wictor

The eternal question of forgiveness

The eternal question of forgiveness

I expect to write about the question of forgiveness for the rest of my life. It’s all right. I don’t mind. The subject interests me.

A well-meaning friend sent me the following quote from a Holocaust survivor.

Forgiveness is more than “letting go.” It is proactive rather than passive. We become victims involuntarily, when a person or entity with power takes away our power to use our mind and body in the way we choose. Something was done to us that put us in a position of feeling powerless. Thus the conscious choice to forgive provides healing, liberation, and reclamation of this power.

First of all, I’ll never take issue with how someone deals with forgiveness when it comes to his or her own individual case. But what my friend sent me has no bearing whatsoever on my life.

For me, forgiving was entirely about letting go. Also, my forgiveness had nothing to do with “reclaiming power.” That was the last thing on my mind when I forgave my father as he writhed on his death bed. I’ll keep saying this until it sinks in: I forgave him entirely for his sake, not mine.

Forgiving Dad did nothing for me. It brought me no peace of mind, it ended none of my pain, and it didn’t help me heal. I forgive him to end his suffering.

A person I once admired greatly responded to my forgiveness with a demented screed.

Your choice is just that: your choice. It would not be mine. To me, the very last piece of the jigsaw … and the very last task … is renunciation of the Holy Mantra, that pernicious cliché which commands: “If you ever hope to truly heal, first you must forgive!” That living lie has derailed more victims from the path to salvation than all the lies of their tortured childhood combined.

Forgiveness is a choice, not an obligation. If *you* are at peace, that’s enough for me. The other human referred to in your letter required all kinds of religious trappings to accept that his death was made peaceful by “forgiveness.” I don’t share those religious views — or *any* religious views — and whatever decision you made that put *you* at peace is the only reality any of us can know.

I said nothing at all about forgiveness being necessary to heal, and I myself wrote that forgiveness is a choice, not an obligation. I also stressed that I’m not religious. Clearly a massive intake of alcohol and a colossal ego are to blame for the misunderstanding of my note. He was also angry that I told him his work gave me the strength to forgive.

Though I don’t regret forgiving Dad, I’ve discovered since his death that he was a man of many secrets, none of them good. If I’d known the full extent of his horrible choices, forgiving him would’ve been impossible. However, I forgave him only for what he did to me, not to anyone else.

Tim is unable to forgive Dad. Eric told me that he has no right to comment one way or another, since his experience with Dad was completely different than that of the rest of us. Both positions are completely legitimate. I’ve never once told Tim that he has to forgive, and I’ve never once told Eric that he must feel any particular way about our father.

Today a trio of clowns on the radio lauded yet another family that has generously forgiven the unrepentant murderer of a loved one.

“Those people are magnificent,” one of the clowns said. “You have to forgive.”

No you don’t. Some crimes are unforgivable. I would say that for your own health, it’s best to let go of the anger, but that’s not the same as forgiving. Some people must forgive in order to achieve peace of mind. Others can’t forgive.

Whatever you do is right. If you forgive, you’re right. If you can’t forgive, you’re right. Never let ANYBODY tell you what you “must” do. As Tim said today, forgiveness has become some bizarre commodity. It’s another fashion statement. People want to get aboard the Forgiveness Express and go chugging down the track into a brand-new dawn.

On second thought it’s more like the Love Boat.

If you can make it onto the Love Boat and have a wonderful trip, God bless you. But some of us can’t. The whole concept of the Love Boat makes me nauseated. I hated Captain Stubing. To me he was sinister and phony. His smile seemed like a mere flexing of muscles.

But I would never tell anyone to not watch The Love Boat. It’s just not a good fit for me.

Everybody has to arrive at their own accommodation of pain, sorrow, and suffering. In the army of New Zealand, they do the haka, a traditional Maori warrior dance. It allows men of a rather reserved culture to express great emotion. This is how Corporal Jacinda Baker was greeted on her way to her final resting place.

I can’t find a translation of this particular haka, but one of the most famous includes these lines.

I die, I die
I live, I live
I die, I die
I live, I live
This is the fierce, powerful man
Who caused the sun to shine again for me
Up the ladder, up the ladder
Up to the top
The sun shines

Some people insist on telling me that they think the haka is “annoying.” I don’t care. It speaks to me. Very few things are completely negative. I collect the fragments of good found almost everywhere. They too speak to me. Like the bad, they exist. They are real.

The decision to forgive or to not forgive is entirely yours to make. This is one of the most important choices you’ll face in your life. Whatever you decide, I will support you. I’m on your side.

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