What does it mean to forgive?
Does it mean you no longer remember, that the memories no longer sting, that you could look someone levelly in the eye and feel no bitterness—maybe even contemplate the possibility of renewed friendship?
Going by these above-mentioned markers, I’m not a very forgiving person. Because I remember, and the memories, though distant, still hurt. Of course you could thoroughly exorcise a person from your immediate present and, as far as you can help it, your future—but the past? For as long as you hold on to hatred for that someone, they’ll always own that part of you.
Don’t we all know this on some level, yet still find it hard to let go?
Some ideas are so deeply ingrained it can make it hard to imagine any other sort of reality. For a very long time, I was sold on the idea that if I even dared to be OK about how much someone hurt me, how much it cost me, what he/she took away from me—that would condone what they did in the first place. I believed that insofar as I held on to my deep-seated anger and resentment, it did justice to my suffering. Conversely, if I were to stop hating that someone, it would devalue all that I went through and my suffering would’ve been for naught. That’s a lie, of course, but the reason it’s so convincing has to do with commonly held perceptions of what forgiveness is about.
Oxford Dictionaries says that once you forgive, you “stop feeling angry or resentful towards (someone) for an offence, flaw, or mistake”, while Wikipedia has a slightly longer description. These are sound definitions, but what’s implied is that forgiveness is a sort of state one arrives at (presumably after years of psychotherapy or by gradually adopting a live-and-let-live philosophy to life)—and in order to achieve that, one first has to check X number of criteria boxes along the way.
But just the end other day I chanced upon a YouTube video on this topic. In it, the speaker shared what he believed forgiveness is about, and what it isn’t:
It isn’t about having to be friends again.
It isn’t about not hurting anymore.
It isn’t about trusting that person again.
In fact, one does not have to feel like they’ve forgiven someone or feel like they’re not hurting anymore. And why not? Because actually, forgiveness …
It is a decision.
It is about knowing what another owes me.
It is about saying I’m not going to make you pay me back for what you owe me.
It is about giving myself the freedom to move forward.
That’s a refreshing take on forgiveness, isn’t it? What’s more, it’s a more realistic view of what it means to move on—that it’s something you can do even with wounds that haven’t completely healed, and that it’s OK even if you decide never to be friends again.
If there’s truth in this definition of forgiveness, I’ve actually long forgiven a certain someone. No longer do I feel the need to beat myself up over being ‘unforgiving’ just because memories are still painful and I have no desire to reconnect with the person.
All these years, I’d imagined myself as a stagnant point on the ‘Moving-On’ graph of life, my only gauge being if I was still hurting. Why was I so emotionally obtuse, I often wondered, berating myself over a lack of progress.
But the idea that remaining hurt doesn’t stop one from moving on, even from forgiving? Wow. I think I can live with that—in fact, I can drink to that.