My father recently told me that he would never forgive someone for the unkind letter they’d sent to him several years ago. When we get together, he mentions this letter, and how hurt his feelings were when he received it, frequently. He’s not asking for my advice or help to move past this, and as I listen to him, often I feel like I am (almost literally) watching someone put an old, unhappy, tape into a tape player, wait for the sad song to begin, and then relive those angry, shocked, and indignant feelings all over again.
It is so easy to see how this is such a waste of time…when it is someone else doing it. It is so natural to want to make excuses for non-forgiveness. It can also feel like self-protection. But it isn’t. It is a small, weak position to take. It’s guarded and afraid and it seems to invite more of the same.
Most of us have done this: made the proclamation that we were through with someone, that what they did was unforgivable, but this never leaves room (in our lives) for that person to change. When we demonize someone, we lock them forever in a snapshot of the worst moment that we can imagine, and then we refuse to take that picture off the wall of our minds. We keep it there to remind us of how bad they were/are. And even if they do change, we cannot see it. And whether they change or not, we suffer.
I have made it my intention to forgive every one for everything. It doesn’t mean that I then call them up to get together. I may never see them again, and in some cases, this is for the best. Sometimes, they are not ready and a call from me would be inappropriate. But it is my intention to hold only lovely, kind, and harmonious pictures in my mind. This way, if someone does change, wants to make an amend, is ready to move beyond the past, I am ready too. But if not, my mind is still clear.
I am the only one responsible for the thoughts and images that I hold in my mind….and what a relief it is to finally know this. It is true freedom.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Viktor Frankl, from Man’s Search for Meaning