Monday, May 29, 2006

The Gift of Forgiveness

Yesterday I finished reading Gordon Livingston's book, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now. Having previously read his second book (see my April archived post titled "Most People Die With Their Music Still Inside Them"), I once again enjoyed the wisdom Dr. Livingston shares from his lifetime of experience as a man, father, and psychiatrist. Among his 30 truths are: We are what we do. Any relationship is under control of the person who cares the least. Only bad things happen quickly. Nobody likes to be told what to do. Love is never lost, not even in death.

The last chapter of the book -- Forgiveness is a form of letting go, but they are not the same thing -- offers some insights that are instructive for creating an ethical will. An ethical will can provide a loving way to express forgiveness to people who may have harmed us at some point in our lives as well as give us an opportunity to ask for forgiveness from those we may have harmed. Ideally, forgiveness doesn't have to wait for your ethical will. But, if you've waited, I encourage you to consider what may need forgiving or forgiveness in your life today.

Dr. Livingston says:

"Certainly it is true that understanding who we are depends on paying attention to the history of our lives. This is why any useful psychotherapy included telling this story. Somewhere between ignoring the past and wallowing in it there is a place where we can learn from what has happened to us, including the inevitable mistakes we have made, and integrate this knowledge into our plans for the future. Inevitably, this process requires some exercises in forgiveness -- that is, giving up some grievance to which we are entitled.

Widely confused with forgetting or reconciliation, forgiveness is neither. It is not something we do for others; it is a gift to ourselves. It exists, as does all true healing, at the intersection of love and justice."

He goes on to say that "Coming to terms with our past is inevitably a process of forgiveness, of letting go, the simplest and most difficult of all human endeavors. It is simultaneously an act of will and of surrender. And it often seems impossible until the moment we do it."

In my own case, a troubled relationship with my father -- my tightly-held anger at his abuse and neglect in my childhood -- lasted far too many years of our lives, keeping both of us from healing. Ironically, our relationship taught me forgiveness in the deepest of ways. And, thankfully, I was blessed with the gift of forgiveness before he drifted into dementia in his early 70's. It made it possible for me love him -- to say "I love you" to him -- before the days in which he showed no sign of knowing who I was and why I was there, holding him in my arms as tears flowed from his sky-blue eyes ... and mine.
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6 comments:

Bern said...

I'm not sure that forgiveness is necessary at that notion presumes that another person harmed us on purpose rather than their self hatred projected onto us. So, to me, it's much easier if I understand that what the "other" did to me has little if nothing to do with me and is merely a projection of their own internalized (introjected) poor self image.

Bern Baca said...

I'm not sure that forgiveness is necessary at that notion presumes that another person harmed us on purpose rather than their self hatred projected onto us. So, to me, it's much easier if I understand that what the "other" did to me has little if nothing to do with me and is merely a projection of their own internalized (introjected) poor self image.

jacqueline said...

I'm late to the conversation, but I appreciate Bern's point that understanding a person's actions in terms of their own internal workings is helpful to being able to let go of anger and resentment. I also think of forgiveness as an internal process that has less to do with whether or not someone else is guilty of malice than with my own ability to give up the need to judge and punish them. More and more, I'm finding that what I do to (or for) others, I do to (or for) myself. The part I don't get is asking someone to forgive me if I've hurt them. I feel all I can do is hear them out, express my regret, make it up in whatever way is agreed appropriate, let it be, and learn from the experience. Asking someone to alter their own internal process seems to me to be adding insult to injury.

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