Forgiveness can be a tough one. Pain – physical or emotional – runs deep, and most of us (being human and all) hold onto said pain long past the point of it being helpful. Pain can be a learning experience, but once the lesson is learned, it’s time to let that pain go. It no longer has a purpose. So just do it. Let it go. Move on. It’s so easy.
Ok I can’t even take myself seriously. The truth? I’m terrible at this. Like, disturbingly bad. I stay hurt like it’s an Olympic sport and I’m in medal contention.
I was doing some research for a writing project and ran across this:
“Forgive all who have offended you, not for them, but for yourself.” -Harriet Nelson.
And then I remembered something that a dear friend of mine used to say:
“Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
Karmically, I understand that forgiveness is a state of mind. It’s not a statement of allowance, or even a statement of being okay. It’s just something you’re supposed to do because forgiveness is good. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. God forgives and stuff, so I should too, right?
But I really got it yesterday. Like, got it. I read a story that made me truly understand what forgiveness is all about, and suddenly, my life was jolted into perspective. Follow this link for a story that will blow your mind. Here’s a summary:
Back during World War II, a bunch of soldiers were captured and held in a labor camp in Southeast Asia. Their labor eventually led to the building of the bridge over the Mae Klong River (renamed the Kwai Yai River in 1960) in Thailand. These men were tortured and forced to work inhumane hours in unspeakable conditions. Their captors were mean, threatening, and had zero empathy for the prisoners. To see a dramatized version of the events, check out the 1957 award-winning film, Bridge on the River Kwai.
So the story that I linked to above is about a former British soldier who was a prisoner at this camp. He survived, and remembers the experience in great detail. An old friend of his pointed him towards an article that had recently been written by one of the commanding Japanese officers at the camp – in other words, one of the specific men who tortured our storyteller. The article was about how he had spent his later years in life trying to atone for the damage he had done to the prisoners at the camp and that he had forgiven himself for his part in anyone’s suffering.
First of all, how do you forgive yourself for something like that? Well, you have to. But I digress. Here’s what happened:
The former soldier’s wife found a way to contact the old commander and told him of her husband’s suffering. She asked him how he could possibly feel forgiven, when she personally knew someone who could never forgive him for what he had done. Surprisingly, the commander wrote back and asked to meet with his former prisoner.
They eventually met, and in place of anger and resentment, they saw each other as humans. They saw each other through the lens of compassion. Forgiveness happened naturally, and the former soldier finally knew peace for himself. The two men even shared a few laughs and bonded over some of the ridiculous things that happened in the labor camp.
If a former POW can forgive the captor who tortured him, I can forgive myself for the petty crap I’ve done. I can forgive people for the petty crap they’ve done to me. Not an ounce of it matters.
Back to the point of forgiveness… who is it really for? Saying “I forgive you” to make someone feel better is not enough. Sure, they may feel like they’re off the hook, but they are not the ones who truly reap the benefit. By feeling forgiveness in your heart, the pain just… disappears. It evaporates into thin air, almost as if it were never there in the first place. It’s really weird. There’s someone in my life who I swore for years that I would never forgive. Yet, somehow, I came to see him as a human who made some weird choices. Not a monster.
Today, I laugh hysterically sometimes about the incident between us that I thought I would never forgive. He was so stupid to do what he did! Who does that!? It’s just silly when put into perspective. I feel much better now that I’m not all hurt about it anymore. The hurt didn’t affect him or punish him; it only punished me and made me feel bad.
So basically, we’re all just humans made of stuff. Once you can see someone as a person who simply was making the best decisions they could with the information they had available at the time – forgiveness is all that’s left.
Now the real test will be learning to apply that forgiveness thing to myself……