“What is truth?” asked Pilate. Pshaw. Why didn’t he ask the really tough question: “What is forgiveness?”
We read much of forgiveness these days. Apparently we needed to. It seemed that, when unimaginable pain in Charleston reached out with unimaginable generosity, we drank like the desert parched.
What is forgiveness? I have no idea. To me, it is the most complicated, mysterious phenomenon in the universe. A writing mate wrote of it once, bravely and insightfully. I admired her courage and her words. It isn’t something easily worded. Not for me.
I know what it isn’t. Forgiveness isn’t permission to do it again. When we forgive the other, we are not saying “you may hurt me again.” Or “you may hurt those I love again.”
Forgiveness isn’t liberation from guilt. Guilt in the other isn’t always ours to lift. Besides, guilt has a place in life; it teaches us not to hurt again. Not all guilt is manipulative or distorting. Some is constructive. Forgiveness can enable a constructive guilt but it is not a magic wand that makes guilt disappear.
Forgiveness isn’t pretending it never happened. Forgiveness acknowledges what happened, not for vengeance or recrimination, but for moving forward. Sometimes for self-defense and survival.
Forgiveness isn’t merely pronouncing a formula. “I forgive you” isn’t the whole of it.
Forgiveness isn’t the absence of feelings. Sometimes anger. Sometimes grief. Sometimes feelings so seismic they don’t have names. But there they are. And must be.
Dad and Mom always said that if you can’t put something into words you don’t understand it. And so I fumble for words because I fumble for understanding. Maybe that’s the best I can do.