I believe in the power of forgiveness. I believe that without it, we are all slaves to mistakes, our own and those belonging to the people around us. I didn’t always feel this way though, and I learned the hard way . . . as most lessons worth learning are learned.
This takes me back to my tenth grade year. I was a good student—straight A’s, respectful, teacher’s pet. My mother taught fourth grade, so I knew how I should behave at school. If I didn’t, my mother would surely hear about it, and then I would hear about it at home. We were raised in a somewhat strict household. Come hell or high water, my three siblings and I were going to be at church with our parents every Sunday. We couldn’t leave the table until our plates were clean. There were no games until our homework was done, and our parents believed in spanking their children. So we were expected to behave, even though we didn’t always, but we were normal kids in a normal Southern family.
I was closer to my older sister than to my two brothers. She was my hero. She was smart and funny and there was no one I respected more than her. In her room across the hall, she would host “Visiting Hour,” which consisted of just the two of us, talking about everything under the sun. We would do our homework or listen to music or clean-up her room or work on the children’s murder mystery we were writing together. Visiting Hour would usually begin about 8 pm and nearly always run to well after midnight, causing our parents to yell up the stairs for us to go to bed because they could see the light from under the crack of my sister’s door. We were close, and our parents saw that. Everyone saw that.
But something severely changed my tenth grade year of high school. My sister, a senior, started dating. And I was jealous. Suddenly, all of the time we once spent together was stolen away by this new boyfriend of hers. And regardless of my high standards, he was not even that great of a guy. They had been dating a while and she told me in confidence one night during one of our now rare “Visiting Hours,” that she had slept with him.
I was devastated. I know a young woman’s purity may not mean much these days, but we had been raised in a strict, Christian household where among the many values our parents had reared us on was saving sex for marriage. I had always been extremely judgmental of other people in my class who had less than stainless reputations.
The pedestal I had placed my sister on crumbled to the ground.
I hated her. I was naïve and selfish and felt as if she had purposefully and maliciously betrayed me. I couldn’t look at her without wanting to cry and scream and hit her or insult her. So I did. For a while, there was a lot of crying and a lot of screaming and a lot of fighting. But as time heals all wounds, I was eventually able to get over my own ego and forgive my sister. I didn’t say it was easy or quick or painless, but I believe in the power of forgiveness. I began to look at those around me and realized just because they made choices that I didn’t think were right, didn’t mean I was better than them and didn’t mean they weren’t still decent people at heart.
I let everything go. My judgments, my reservations, my contempt, and I accepted tolerance with open arms. Diversity in friendship is a beautiful thing, and tolerance makes the world go ‘round.
My sister is now married (to a different guy, thank God, a man who knows how to treat a woman with respect), and even though she lives in Florida and I’m at college in Alabama, we’re closer than ever. We don’t get to see each other often, and with our busy schedules we don’t even get to talk much, but our sibling love is stronger than it has ever been.
Not all stories have a happy ending, but this one does. My sister taught me about understanding and accepting mistakes we’ve made. But more importantly, she taught me the significance of tolerance and the power of forgiveness. And isn’t that a beautiful thing?
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