The other day, I discussed with a friend the concept of forgiveness, more specifically, “How do I forgive someone who isn’t sorry?”
Lemme back up.
We all have a backstory, the prologue to our present and future. You have gone through life with some bumps in the road, and perhaps even some major roadblocks. You got bullied. You got abandoned. You were insulted. You were cheated on. You were assaulted. Or worse.
Whatever it is, you are still here. But your heart has scars. You are fighting a battle that no one knows about but you. The more you share, the better off we all will be, especially you.
And the more you forgive people, those scars stop hurting so much.
I know why I want to forgive people. Because I still have those scars. The more I forgive, the less the scars hurt.
With this in mind, I was reminded of Teressa Strasser discussing her deceased step-mother. This woman was, in Teressa’s words, a, “step-monster.” Many of us are children of divorce, which is a scar on the heart that never truly heals, but some of us are lucky enough to have awesome step-parents.
Ms. Strasser was not so lucky. This woman was a terrible human being who pulled a, “Divide and Conquer,” strategy between Teressa’s father and his daughter. It was successful:
I hadn’t seen her since I was 17, the day I vowed I’d never see her again – dead or alive. That was the day she hid a piece of her jewelry, a brooch shaped like a bumblebee, and tracked me down at a crowded Santa Rosa public tennis court to accuse me of stealing it while my brother and father looked on.
And then, many years later, Queen Step-Monster died. “Now what???” Teressa wondered. How do I forgive someone who isn’t sorry, but even if they could apologize, wouldn’t?
“All of the rabbis I spoke with said the same thing. We don’t have to forgive, but for our own good, we should try.”
And, when she asked a Rabbi friend of hers:
“But what about that temptation I feel to do a happy dance instead of mourn? That can’t be appropriate.
“Mourn the relationship that should have been,” said Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom. “Sit down with a glass of wine and ask yourself, how nice would it have been if she had been supportive, protective, fun to be with?”
Where I think Teressa is going here, and her rabbi’s advice is as well, is that forgiving someone is not for the villain in your life, it’s for you. So that you don’t walk around with that pain in your heart. So that you don’t suffer any more by allowing this monster to live in your head, rent free, torturing you every day.
Damn gremlin. But doesn’t this mean that if you forgive someone, they will keep on hurting you?
I ran this past my therapist, who asked me if I had seen the film, “Cinderella.” I had, but it had been a while.
It’s towards the end. Cinderalla is free of her wicked step-mother (how about that?) and her evil step-sisters. She’s got her shoes and she’s got her prince. And the step-sisters show up and apologize. “We’re so sorry for the way we treated you!!! Forgive us!!”
“Okay,” Cinderalla replies, “I forgive you.” She means it.
“Great,” the step-sisters reply, “Now we can be family again!”
Cinderalla shuts the door on them. She knows better. She knows that even if they are actually remorseful, truly toxic people won’t ever change. That’s a cold part of reality that we all must accept. People can be sorry for their sin while they keep sinning. And many folks can’t ever stop. This is where boundaries come in. The line in the sand. This far, no further.
Forgive them but never forget who they are.
So, if you run into the person (1 out of a million) you be the adult. You don’t stick yourself in the mud with them.
In the meantime, you meditate every day for 20 minutes, you learn self-defense, you eat healthy and spread the love.
And most of all, you forgive everyone who has ever crossed you.
It’s not for them, it’s for you.