Who Can We Forgive?

I would like to share with you two simple truths: there is nothing that cannot be forgiven,
and there is no one undeserving of forgiveness.

Desmond Tutu

That starts with you. Forgive yourself! Stop beating yourself up for things you did and didn’t do. Let go of the reins of self-hatred, self-sabotage. 

How many times do we pay for one mistake? The answer is thousands of times. The human is the only animal on earth that pays a thousand times for the same mistake. The rest of the animals pay once for every mistake they make. But not us. We have a powerful memory. We make a mistake, we judge ourselves, we find ourselves guilty, and we punish ourselves. If justice exists, then that was enough; we don’t need to do it again. But every time we remember, we judge ourselves again, we are guilty again, and we punish ourselves again, and again, and again.  Don Miguel Ruiz, the Four Agreements

We do this to others. We are too quick to judge others harshly. 

We must be ready and willing to unconditionally forgive. To seek understanding.

By forgiving others we practice forgiveness of ourselves. We need to learn how to forgive.

Yes, people need to be held accountable. But there is no quid pro quo. “I’ll apologize once you apologize.” 

Desmond Tutu beseeches us again!  
Each time we help, and each time we harm, we have a dramatic impact on our world. Because we are human, some of our interactions will go wrong, and then we will hurt or be hurt, or both. It is the nature of being human, and it is unavoidable. Forgiveness is the way we set those interactions right. It is the way we mend tears in the social fabric. It is the way we stop our human community from unraveling.

I could regale you the research on stress and blood pressure, ulcers, and longevity for those who chain themselves to the toxic anger and a life of vengefulness. Without forgiveness we hurt ourselves and become a hostage to the hurt. Your status as a victim is preserved and it defines you and your life. 
That one of the top regrets of the dying, was not forgiving others. 

Once you forgive and face that truth you are free to grow and renew yourself. You can move on.

Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. Bryan Stevenson 

Over the holidays I was on a zoom with some family friends. Somehow, we got into some dark stories about their grandparents. Apparently, they were quite physically, psychologically, and emotionally abusive to their children. While the grandparents were long gone, there was some residual anger and blame for the impact it had on some. One of the grown children who had not spoken much said “It hurts me to think about them and how much pain they caused. They must have been going through their own trauma. I don’t harbor any ill thoughts toward them. I feel sorry for them.  I hope that they come back in a future life and are born as my children so I can love and care for them. And maybe they would become better parents.” 

One of the most beautiful and forgiving things I have ever heard.

Many years ago, I was in charge of Big Brothers Big Sisters for the greater LA area. In my second week on the job I was asked to be a press conference at the site of a gang killing. As part of a gang initiation, one of our “little brothers” was shot in the back 10 times in a random drive by. His name was Dexter. An innocent young man. I met his tearful mother there at the bloodstained corner where the murder took place. Nothing fully prepared me for the range of emotions I experienced. We started a program in Dexter’s name to honor his legacy and to help more young men.

A little more than 3 years later I was asked to attend the sentencing hearing for the two young men who were convicted of Dexter’s murder. Dexter’s mother cried and screamed. Her outbursts were from her pain and loss. She bemoaned the effort she and so many others had made to keep Dexter safe and out of trouble. None of her ire was directed at the perpetrators, who were not much older than Dexter was. Both of whom were new fathers. Dexter’s mom wanted me to bring a couple of application packets to request a Big Brother/Sister. I gave them to her not knowing why she wanted them now. During her tearful speech to the court, she turned to the perpetrators, and said, “I forgive you. I forgive you for taking my only son. Here are two applications for your young children. I want them to have mentors. I want them to be safe and happy.” She looked to the heavens, and begged, “Please take care of their babies!” There was not a dry eye in the courtroom.

I have been privy to great acts of forgiveness. None as generous and compassionate as this. I am not sure I could have done this, but it taught me there are no limits. No exceptions to what and who could be forgiven. 

It has been the work of a lifetime for me. To push and pull my forgiveness muscles, to stretch them and exercise them to free me from the tyranny of anger and vitriol. To practice this on myself. 

There is always a consequence for one’s actions. There is accountability. Truths must be faced. Lessons learned. The men who shot Dexter are still behind bars. But revenge is not one of them. Hurting ourselves and the people around us for the crimes of others preserves the pain and suffering and never fixes things. Dexter’s mother could focus on her loss and her life, not waste her precious energy on the perpetrators after they were sentenced. 

We are not the worst things we have done.

No one is.  Including you!

Let’s forgive ourselves and each other. To learn and live!

Thanks for reading. John

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