I encounter them everyday, those people walking with their heads down, counting the cracks in the concrete. They avoid eye contact and they do not smile at all except for the occasional world-weary grimace that reeks of cynicism and mistrust.
They have been judged, or ridiculed, or dismissed, or betrayed. They have been the casualty in the torrid affair. The pawn in the game. The loser, the prey, the fool, the target.
They wear their pain like a thick, twisted shawl, enveloping themselves within it as their wounds fester and multiply like a relentless cancer intent on destroying its dwelling.
They have forgotten what it feels like to be open and vulnerable. They have learned to expect the heartache, the deception, the stab in the back. Their defenses are up. They are armed and dangerous.
I have lived among them, these Walking Wounded. I have been their kind.
I suspect we all have, at some point or another. We are flawed human beings and, as such, we get lost in our own delusions, become consumed by ego-driven determination and, intentionally or not, we hurt each other.
And we carry the hurt like a badge that states, “I have been hurt. I have hurt others. Stay away.”
We erect walls around ourselves, solid and durable and nearly impenetrable. We speak with spite and regard others with suspicion. We repeat the same story again and again, embellishing the details every time, clearly drawing the line between villain and victim. We refuse to forget. We especially refuse to forgive.
We falsely believe that forgiving means denying the pain that we’ve suffered and letting the offender off the hook. So we latch on to those old injuries and insults because we have been unjustly harmed and we want the perpetrator to pay.
But the perpetrator doesn’t pay. We pay. And the tighter our grip on the pain of the past, the higher the price we pay.
“You will forgive them not because they deserve to be forgiven, but because you don't want to suffer and hurt yourself every time you remember what they did to you. Forgiveness is for your own mental healing. Forgiveness is an act of self-love.” (p. 170).
Forgiveness is an act of self-love?
This concept was entirely new to me. I remember reading this passage numerous times, knowing deep inside that I was uncovering a truth of extraordinary importance.
Forgiveness is an act of self-love.
Gradually, these words weaved their way from the intellectual tunnels of my mind to the inner chambers of my heart until, all at once, I understood.
So I started, quietly and steadily, to unravel the knots within me that had been forming for years. Some knots were easier to untangle than others. Some required more willpower than I could muster and I accepted that forgiveness would come, eventually, through persistent practice.
I do not claim to be a master of forgiveness or to never lose myself in feelings of rage, reproach, and righteousness but, over the years, I have become quite adept at forgiving (although I do admit that forgiving others always comes more easily than forgiving myself.)
Forgiveness is a choice that must be made on a daily basis. It is a refusal to live in the past and an acceptance of the present moment and all of its subtle splendour. It is a letting go of disappointment, of sadness, of anger, of fear. It is not a justification of the hurtful act that was inflicted upon us (or that we inflicted upon others), but a conscious decision to liberate ourselves from the act's unabating, suffocating grip.
“I forgive you” is not about you at all. It is about me. “I forgive and I set myself free.”
To forgive is to know that life is too precious for grudges and grievances. To forgive is to welcome the sunrise that drenches our soul in shades of gold while it renews, revives, repairs. To forgive is to acknowledge our worth. It is to look into our own eyes and see the goodness there. It is an act of self-acceptance. Of self-respect. Of self-love.
First, forgive. Then, rejoice.
Then, forgive again.
This week’s affirmation: I forgive and I set myself free.