I had this job a few years ago, one that I look back on with hate and fear, love and gratitude, all rolled into one contradictory ball.
I was a community educator, (which is just a fancier way of saying that I went door-to-door), raising money and awareness for a rape crises center. The door-to-door job can be interesting enough, but when you add a decidedly touchy social issue, such as sexual assault, the job becomes an experience within its own realm. I was subjected to the best and worst of society, the gamut of every personality, preference and lifestyle.
I met people who didn’t say a word to me, wouldn’t even look me in the face, while they wrote me a five hundred dollar check. I ate at strangers’ dinner tables, watched movies with their children, held their babies, drank beer with them, chain smoked cigarettes with them. I also met people who called me horrible names, who slammed the door in my face, who sent their dogs after me, who called the police on me.
But I remember one woman above all the others. I do not remember her name, but I do know she has a cat named Oscar. I don’t know what she does for a living, but I do know that she loves to paint. I don’t know her address, but I could take you straight to her house.
When she was in her twenties, she was pulled from her car in a parking lot and raped in front of her four year old son, who was strapped into his car seat. She ended up with thirty stitches in her face, a fear of parking lots, and a son who still struggles to cope with the after-affects.
Two hours into our time together found both of us on her kitchen floor, sobbing together over something that happened twenty years before. She held a picture of her son, stressing to me that it was he who was the true victim. That she was not a victim. She told me a lot about that difficult time in her life, but one thing rang out louder than anything else she said to me that day.
She told me that she had forgiven the man who raped her.
I walked away from her house with a horrible metallic taste under my tongue, wanting to find that man and hurt him. Hurt him badly, as badly as he’d hurt her. I couldn’t imagine how someone could not only live through such a thing, but could come out of it peaceful and understanding, much less forgiving.
It has taken me the four years since I left that job to figure it out.
She forgave that man so that he would no longer have any claim over her sadness, or joy, or humanity. She forgave him so that she could focus on helping her son to do the same.
She forgave him so that she could let him go.
I am not good at forgiveness. In fact, I could be the world champion at holding grudges. There are people and moments in my life that I look back on with just as much pain as when the wound was still young and raw. Yet, none of my personal heartaches even begin to compare to that woman’s pain.
I think of her every time I catch myself tonguing an old, open wound. She taught me that the ability to forgive can heal.
Because of her, I truly believe in the power of forgiveness.