I believe in forgiving. But I believe it is realized and not given.
When I was 15, my parents divorced. Nothing extraordinary. My father, who never worked, sunk his teeth into my family, and ripped away what he believed was his. It was a large portion of my family’s assets, including the money for my college. He squandered it on exercise equipment and gambling, and disappeared, like so many fathers do. I guess to start over. With a new life, a new family. He got to start over.
Then my family dissolved, like so many families do.
For many important years, I watched it all, a little removed, like the way you’d watch a movie. And I dealt with it in my own quiet ways. But the overwhelming feelings that I remember are humiliation, shame, and fear.
Looking back, I think that this was the fear that I could never forgive him.
I heard my father was traveling the world. Maybe he was becoming a new person. I emailed and wrote him for 7 years with no reply. I poured out to him how I had gone to college and become a woman. How I had changed, too, and what I had learned. But his indifference fueled my frustration, which subsided into sadness, which transformed into anger. Like so many times it does.
I began to question whether or not there were some acts that exceed our pardons. You left me: can I forgive that? You robbed me: can I forgive that? You ignored me: can I forgive that? You’re so human: can I forgive that?
Last week, I found out that my father was back in Austin. His brother, with whom he hadn’t spoken to for 25 years because they’d had a falling out, and now he was dying. My dad had come only to say goodbye.
Doris Lessing once said that growing up is only the realization that our own unique experiences are what everyone else shares. I came to my own realization when I heard my uncle was dead. A lonely anger had grown inside me in my father’s absence, when it should have been understanding. And my father, no matter how much he had tried to change, probably carried those painful things with him also.
I realized that had to forgive. But it is such a difficult thing!
It’s not spoken about with the gravity that it deserves. We talk about it like it’s a gift that we dangle effortlessly over the deserving.
When I heard he was in Austin, I gave up. My anger, my entitlement, my expectations. I decided they were fruitless. And then I called him. We met, and talked, and smiled, casually sidestepping any difficult conversation.
And while I never said the words, “I forgive you,” he understood. Because I think forgiveness is not something that is given, as its name suggests, but internalized. True forgiveness requires no words.