It took me nearly forty-three years to realize that forgiveness is a choice. A choice that is made, and remade, each day. (And, yes, it is something that I learned in a book. And yes, that book was one of the Outlander books. And, yes, there will be spoilery bits sprinkled throughout this post, so consider yourself warned.)
One cannot make it to the age of forty-three without having a few things to forgive along the way. Sometimes they are little things…someone forgot to put gas in the car, or left a mess for me to clean up. Nothing that requires an Act of Contrition…just simple, human mistakes or omissions. Forgiveness comes easy and quickly.
Sometimes forgiveness comes with a bit more reluctance. A snarky comment, wounded pride, a thoughtless act, or a selfish moment can leave a certain rawness. Hurt must be soothed before forgiveness is offered, but it is offered nonetheless.
There are moments, though, that sear the soul. These moments shape us, and how we react to those wrongs helps to define who we are…and who we want to be.
On November 13, 1998, my aunt went to her job at Connor’s Correctional Center in Hominy, Oklahoma, where she worked in the kitchen.
She never came home.
Things like that, well, they take a bit more work to forgive. Wrongs like that require a continuous and conscious effort for forgiveness to take root. So, when I read the part in Outlander where Jamie is talking to Brianna about forgiving the man who raped her, I read it very, very carefully looking for anything that might help me with my own battle for forgiveness. Because forgiveness can be a struggle…and books have always helped me with my struggles. (I really do need to create a shirt that says: BOOKS ARE MY THERAPY!)
Jamie* talked about forgiveness being a decision that is consciously made each and every day. Today, I forgive you for the wrongs you have done to me. It is a decision born of necessity—not because my forgiveness matters to the offender (since sometimes it really doesn’t), but because forgiveness matters to me.
I don’t want to fill myself with hatred. I don’t want to spend my days crafting mental scenarios of imagined comeuppance. I’d rather free up that space in my soul for writing, and taking care of my family, and feeding my chickens, and reading, and talking to some of the amazing people I’ve met on Twitter. And joy. I really want to make room for joy.
I recently found out that the man who murdered my aunt is scheduled for execution this October and, honestly, I don’t know how I feel about that. While there is certainly no doubt of his guilt, I wonder, after all of these years, just what it will accomplish. It cannot possibly settle any “score.” It cannot set anything right. It brings me no peace. It is just the next step in a fifteen year “process” of justice…or what passes for it.
Perhaps the only thing that would give me peace would be the thought of some sort of possible redemption. Maybe he changed. Maybe that day haunted him. Maybe in the years since he killed her he did some small act of good to weigh against the bad….
We don’t always know why things happen. They just do. I don’t know why my aunt died on that autumn day. I don’t know what drove a man to stab her. Whatever Grand Plan there may be, I am not privy to its workings.
I read once about some of the individuals who were almost at Ground Zero when the World Trade Center was bombed…people who should have been there but who, for some strange twist of fate, weren’t. Some had called in sick. Others were simply running late. And one man, as I recall, bent to tie his shoe and the lace broke…so he stopped at a store on his way to work to buy a new set of shoelaces. A broken shoelace saved his life.
You wake up meaning to call you aunt…and go to bed that night with the realization that you can never call her again. Perhaps all I know for sure is that you can wake up in one world and go to bed in quite a different one. So, rather than hate, I think I’ll try to make the most of the moments in between.
* And in MOBY, Claire runs into one of her surviving rapists and tried to decide how to cope with knowing that he is still out there, and she struggles with how to forgive. (Full disclosure: Jamie quickly relieves her of that burden but, to Claire’s credit, she really did try.)