A relative to whom I was once fairly close once told me she could never forgive her parents for the hurt they had caused her. She explained this to me after I encouraged her to forgive them. Every now and then, I hear people say “I can forgive, but I can’t ever forget.” Undoubtedly, we hear of experiences so horrid and tragic that can make it awfully difficult to explain or comprehend the place of forgiveness in those situations. Preaching about forgiveness is about the last approach most people desire in a state of pain, and trauma, in some cases. As much as I value forgiveness, I sometimes doubt my fortitude to accomplish this virtue in the face of transgression. I can certainly intellectualize forgiveness as a powerful force which can set us free from the chains of stagnation. By forgiving, we gain the wisdom and strength needed to offer something of value to the world. Forgiveness shapes us into unique individuals and grants us the gift of healing others. No one can deny that this world needs this service of love now more than ever. However, intellectualizing a concept does not mean exercising our principles with passion. Rudolf Steiner, in Vision of Love, explains we must understand with feeling and feel with understanding. Therefore, forgiveness should move far beyond us saying it is an essential virtue. Forgiveness should also move us far beyond entangling ourselves in harmful situations, if it can be helped.
One day, a friend asked me for a ride to the cemetery. He wanted to visit the gravesite of a dear friend he had lost previously. Once we arrived, he kindly asked me to wait in the car while he visited the gravesite. It was a nice, sunny day and the cemetery was a bit hilly with green grass, which is what you might expect. I had an experience for a short moment that day which I may never, ever forget. I well recall I was in the early stages of desiring positive change in my life, and, though I still stumbled and fumbled plenty, I had some awareness of personal growth. Up on one of the small cemetery hills I envisioned both my parents as very small children standing together joyfully on the grass looking in my direction. Be aware, I have seen only one picture of my father as a small child and none of my mother. As I envisioned them ever so vividly, I began to cry a solemn cry of relief. Vividly imagining my parents as small innocent children allowed me to see them in a new light. It goes without saying, I was highly anguished at one point in my life over their parenting behavior and decisions. The point of my experience at the cemetery was not that the vision convinced me my parents were like small, innocent children. The point was I had been given a divine opportunity to forgive them. It was not about approaching them in real life and letting them know they were forgiven, or about justifying their errors, or about explaining they were perfect parents, or about giving them something of value at the expense of my well-being. Since that day, I desire to find and attain the gem of forgiveness any time the chains of resentment invite themselves into my life and threaten to cloud my opportunity to grow and change. Growth and change have been the divine gifts of a desire to be a better person, and I have had the honor to see these scepters of power unfold in my life.
I have hardly spoken to my relative over the last decade, at least. From what I have heard about her, and from what I have seen, she has had a very difficult time emotionally and mentally. I am also haunted by repeated dreams about her in which she is not doing well. At some point, shortly before she and I became distant, she slowly grappled with an obsessive idea about the experiences of her upbringing, which were, in the frame of time, decades behind her. I am too often disconcerted by the stories I hear which I can ascertain to be very close to true. My relative endures chronic mental collapse, and portrays inappropriate behaviors resembling those of a rebellious and tormented teenager, though she is, chronologically, what society refers to as middle-aged. I am not in a position to claim a genuine capacity to forgive in all situations at all times. I think I understand the grace and power of forgiveness, and have sadly seen in those I love the detriment of a refusal to forgive. All I can ask and desire is to master the power of forgiveness, and grow to be a vehicle of change even if it be in the meekest of ways. Ultimately, forgiveness is the source of peace and love this Earth deserves. It is the mightiest token of humanity’s treasure hunt for truth and healing.