“Sorry seems to be the hardest word.” It’s not just a cliche. It is also a song lyric. And for the longest time ever, I considered it to be absolutely and completely true.
Of late, however, I have begun to reassess my position. Mostly because it now looks like sorry seems to be the ‘easiest word’. Whether it is ordinary folk, politicians, sports stars, film stars or assorted celebrities, apologies come thick and fast at us. In fact, it’s almost as if a facile ‘sorry’ uttered with a suitably contrite expression is enough to forgive any sin ranging all the way from pride, greed, vanity to envy and sloth.
Which brings me to my recent epiphany: it is not ‘sorry’ that is the hardest word; that honour goes to the word ‘forgiveness’.
It is not for nothing that it is said that ‘to err is human, to forgive, divine’. God may be full of infinite mercy and forgiveness but ordinary flawed human beings like you and me have the hardest time forgiving those who sin against us. (My apologies for the overtly Catholic theme this Sunday morning; in my defence, I did go to convent school!)
It could be the ‘hep girls’ in school who took special delight in dissing your haircut and clothes. It could be the ‘best friend’ who dumped you the moment he discovered better, cooler friends. It could be your first love who ditched you via text message. It could be a family member who turned his back on you in your hour of need. It could be the boss who took special delight in humiliating you in front of the whole office. The mother-in-law who treated you harshly when you entered her household.
It doesn’t matter how much time passes and how rich/famous/successful/old you become. Those first slights never leave you, their wounds as fresh as ever when you scratch the surface. That searing sense of injustice, that burn of humiliation, that flash of anger at the unfairness of life. All those feelings are rekindled when those memories surface (and they surface all too often) no matter how many years go by.
And however much you tell yourself that you should move on and not remain a prisoner of the past, there is something within you which will not allow you to let go of grievances long gone. And thus they fester within you, getting bigger and bigger rather than shrinking with the passage of time.
Yes, it is hard to forgive. It is hard to move past the injustices, the slights, the betrayals of the past. And it is hard to get rid of the rancour that wedges in your throat like a tiny pebble that you simply cannot swallow however hard you try.
But does it get easier to let it go when forgiveness is sought in a manner that is frank, sincere, transparent and heartfelt? Do you then feel vindicated enough, or
even moved enough, to forgive those who have trespassed against you? Or do you simply mouth the words without really meaning them? Or worse, do you employ yet another dreadful cliche: “I forgive, but I never forget.”
Well, if you chose the last option, I have news for you. You may say that you have forgiven. You may even convince yourself that you have. But so long as you cannot ‘forget’, your forgiveness is mere lip service. It does not extend to your heart or even your brain. It is just a sop to the rules of civilised behaviour. Someone said sorry, so you felt obliged to offer forgiveness. And you did that, while still carrying the grievance in your heart.
Sorry, but that’s not forgiveness.
And what of those who barely acknowledge their fault, leave alone ask for forgiveness? What about those who seem to suffer from selective amnesia, acting as if all that bad blood between you simply does not exist? How do you get around to forgiving these people, let alone moving past the hurt they have caused you?
I have to confess that I have no answers. I know, at a theoretical level, that I should be preaching forgiveness. But, in my gut, I really don’t see how forgiveness is possible in these circumstances.
Speaking for myself, I must admit that I have found it hard, nay, impossible to forgive for most of my adult life. So I have carried my share of grievances in the recesses of my heart, pulling them out occasionally to examine them closely before tucking them away again. And it took me until my middle age to realise that this was punishing nobody but myself. So finally, I have got around to telling myself to let things go, because nothing matters very much and very little matters at all.
If that philosophical attitude doesn’t really work for you, then try this one, laced with pragmatism and a certain weary resignation. Forgive them not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace of mind.
From HT Brunch, January 8, 2017
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