I believe in the transforming power of forgiveness. I believe that at their core, people are good, and at every given moment, they are doing the best they can do. If they could do better, they would.
When I was nine years old, my brother and I were snatched for an afternoon by a pedophile. It was a classic stranger abduction. He enticed us; we were caught. He did take us home afterwards, and said he would kill us if we told anyone; we were actually punished for being late to dinner. We were shattered by that day. My brother became a perpetrator himself. I spent my alcoholic teen years on the streets, shooting drugs, selling my body. I worked hard over the years to heal, utilizing therapy, support groups, self-study, meditation. I was healed in many ways, and found I could “pass” for normal. But years later, even many years after having sobered up, cleaned up, I still suffered in subtle ways, confusing ways.
A few years ago, at a day-long Buddhist retreat, I heard a monk mention both childhood sexual abuse and forgiveness in the same talk. I realized I had never considered forgiving that pedophile. I was stunned that it had never occurred to me. How could that be? How could no one have even mentioned it to me, over all these years? Perhaps it had been suggested, but I was so far from being capable of it that I didn’t even recognize the possibility.
At home that night after the retreat, I realized that I could forgive. I could forgive that sick, tortured man who could not control his own twisted instincts.
What that means to me, forgiving him, is that I do wish for him everything I wish for myself: love, peace of mind, contentment, prosperity, a place in the world, forgiveness. If he is still alive, I hope he has moved beyond being out of control, beyond being tortured himself by his own acts, and into the grace of forgiveness. I know he would not have done it, if he could have stopped himself. If he could have done better, he would have.
As I look back now, I see that the act, the process, of forgiving that man – who had haunted me for almost 40 years – transformed me. Something shifted, my life opened up, and I was free in a way that had eluded me for my adult life. I have now finished the bachelor’s degree it took me 33 years to complete. I have seen the direction to take in graduate school and will be starting next fall. I have seen, in hindsight, that I am freer now than I have ever been. I can trace it, literally, to that day, May 31st, 2004, to one talk in which I heard the word forgiveness, and I was called to forgive. I was given the gift of transformation through the simple act of forgiving.
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