There is a story I’ve told before, about how Pat Burris, who at that time was our next-door neighbor, had her baby just a week before my mother gave birth, and usurped the baby girl name that Mom had picked out. So, when Mom also had a baby girl, she had to come up with another name. Though they were lifelong friends, Mom never forgave Pat for that. Seventy years later, when the conversation turned to Pat, or to her daughter, Shari, or to my named-at-the-last-minute sister, Sheila, Mom would point out the fact that Pat had stolen her baby name.
I must take after my mother in that regard. Forgiveness is one of those things that I KNOW is important, but that is so, so difficult to achieve. I have learned how to move on from insult or injury. That, alone, is a major accomplishment. But I don’t forget and, if I’m honest, I rarely forgive.
I attribute it, partly at least, to my good memory. I can not only remember incidents that happened years ago, I can recollect the way they made me feel. I can bring up the emotion as if it were yesterday. So, when that emotion involves hurt feelings resulting from being snubbed or slighted or slandered, I still feel the pain, and the bitterness lingers.
I hold on to things that are of absolutely no consequence in my life today. When I was five years old, and my mother punished me unfairly. When my Dad deliberately missed my Confirmation ceremony, too busy setting off dynamite charges to get rid of tree stumps. When my sister mocked my skinny legs. When a teacher singled me out for blame on the rare occasion when I was blameless. It’s not that I’m still mad, no. It’s that the lingering feelings of resentment let me know that forgiveness has not happened yet.
These things are all in the far distant past. Between the time of my childhood and now, I’ve been married and divorced. I’ve raised children. I have had businesses and partnerships and jobs, and have experienced friendships of all kinds. Imagine all the indignation I could hold on to, from all of those interactions over the years!
I give myself a little grace in this area. I know that these old grudges hurt me more than anyone else. I also know that I hold myself to an even higher standard, and that I don’t forgive myself, either. I remember a time my Mom came into my room and put her arm around me, and I turned my back to her. I remember a dozen times when I behaved unkindly to my parents, or to my brothers and sisters. A thousand times, at least, when I messed up as a parent. A million times when I, out in the world, said the wrong thing or didn’t speak up when I should have. These things haunt me, too, if I dwell on them. When it comes to forgiveness, I should learn to be as generous with it as others have been with me!