...and Forget

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I received a letter in the mail. It, unusually, didn't include a check or unsigned birthday card; instead, a four-page hand-written note. It has been exceptionally cold in Chicago and I read it as I entered my apartment still wearing my heavy jacket. As I fumbled the letter with my gloves, it was clear the handwriting didn't match the author's. The author employed an assistant to form the right words. I read a very personal and revealing letter. The content of the letter is irrelevant. There is always a formula: admit mistakes, offer excuses, make definitive resolutions, repeat.

It asked for forgiveness. A letter I never wanted, needed, asked for, or expected was in my hands. And now it stares at me from the shelf.

Forgiveness is a myth. At best, it implies an impossible bargain; at worst, an unqualified lie. The classical denotation involves the cessation of anger or resentment.

This doesn't cut it.

The simple passage of time abates anger. It is an untenably stressful and unsustainable emotional response. Here, time forgives all. When we are wronged, the damage is irrevocable. The rain cannot be returned to the clouds. It can only be managed.

Instead, forgiveness ought to be a a coming to terms, a movement toward acceptance. You have been wronged. This is a fact. Genuine forgiveness is not pretending the trespass never occurred; rather, it signifies a willingness to live with the person who's committed the slight.

The cliché "forgive and forget" misses the point. It is an act of Bad Faith (Sartre, Being and Nothingness) to assert forgiveness is tied in any meaningful way to forgetting. Real forgiveness stares the betrayal in the face and accepts it. Here, and only here, the value of the relationship outweighs the misdeed. To be forgiven, the relationship must be worthy of the nagging memory of wrongdoing. The perpetrator must be deserving of love, respect, and acceptance. If they are not, there can be no forgiveness. By and large, these are the majority of the cases. Forgiveness in the truest and most relevant sense is rare. Because although time does hide all wounds, it doesn't always heal them.

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