Mental Health Monday: Forgiveness—the Therapy of Old Age
Today I’m continuing my reading in Joan Chittister’s book, The Gift of Years. You can read my previous reflections on her book here.
This morning I read her chapter on “Forgiveness.” Wow. Just wow. I’m in the middle of my Southern “book tour” with Nina Gaby, editor of a new anthology in which I have an essay—Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women. My essay is titled, “High School Never Ends.” The timing is perfect for some thoughts on forgiveness, since many of the authors in this collection—myself included—never got “closure” with the friend who dumped us. And in my case, the dumping happened almost fifty years ago. Chittister’s words speak directly to this issue and to my own personal situation:
We have been wronged. Someone has broken the unwritten rules of life by which we live. Someone has scratched the surface of our own perfection and left us exposed, abandoned, distant, aloof, gone. Sometimes the other person knows what happened, and why. Sometimes he or she doesn’t. We simply disappear to wait for a redress that never comes.
Or in my case, we try for a reconciliation forty-something years later, and it still doesn’t come. Why was it important for me to connect with that person so many decades later? Chittister continues:
Then, the years pass. The more important the relationship, the more vivid the memory of the wrong. Instead of diminishing, the memory—the pain of it—grows stronger every year. This is a weeping wound, festering with time, a scar on the heart, acid in the belly. And time is passing.
As I wrote in last Monday’s post, I’ve actually experienced this pain twice—once from this high school friend, and much later in life from an adult, although I chose to write the essay about the experience from high school. Chittister’s “solution” really isn’t a mystery, and seems almost obvious, but sometimes. we have to be in a place where we are ready to hear solutions. And that place is often old age:
The question is, why does such an old sore hurt more now that I am old than it did when it happened? Or, conversely, why am I more sensitive to it now than I have been for years?…Bitterness, once it sinks like sand in the soul, skews our balance for years go come…. Only we can free ourselves from the burden of bitterness old anger brings with it.
Only forgiveness can stem such pain in us. An apology alone can’t possibly do it. This kind of pain… can be healed only by the wounded, not the offender, because it is the wounded who is maintaining it.
Only forgiveness is the therapy of old age that wipes the slate clean, that heals as it embraces.
Forgiveness puts life back together again.
Another thing that has helped me forgive the friend(s) who unfriended me is to reflect on the possibility that I might not have known the whole story. Chittister addresses this:
Do we even remember clearly anymore what it was that happened? Are we really sure it was as intentional as we have painted it all these years?
And then she quotes the poet Mary Lou Kownacki:
Is there anyone we wouldn’t love if we only knew their story?
It helps me to remember that this person who hurt me has her own struggles, her own story. I wouldn’t say that I’m to the place where I actually love her. But I have forgiven her. And that’s a good start.
I’m off to Oxford, Mississippi, today, with Nina Gaby (editor of Dumped) for our reading at Square Books tonight. Then tomorrow night we’ll be back in Memphis for another reading, this time at the Booksellers at Laurelwood. Hope to have a lively discussion with everyone who comes!