Radical Forgiveness

"Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it." ~ Mark Twain

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” ~ Mark Twain

Forgiveness has been on my mind lately.

You see, I’m not very good at it.

I wrote a ridiculously long blog post about it yesterday — one that was more like an extended self-therapy session. No one in her right mind wants to read it. Trust me on that one. But here’s the crux:

We humans are broken for many reasons. We all have brokenness. Hurt people hurt other people. Thus, there is a lot of room for forgiveness.

I think we often hurt each other unknowingly, unintentionally. Because sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own lives that we forget to reach out to others, to offer them a kind word, a helping hand, a moment of understanding or companionship. We rush, rush, rush to the next task, and sometimes we leave those we love most in our frenzied wake.

It hurts to feel disposable and disregarded. It’s painful for everyone. It is, in fact, my greatest Achilles Heel. I’ve always said that if someone would just say, “I’m sorry I hurt you, I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed me, I’m sorry I misunderstood,” I could move on.

Maybe.

Maybe not.

As humans, in general, I don’t think we’re very good at forgiveness. I’m the line leader of the Not Good At Forgiving Club. My unwillingness to fully forgive is never about revenge — I’m not an intentional hurter and am almost always willing to let someone back into my life. My forgiveness failings are instead about holding on to past transgressions… just in case I might need them as ammunition later.

My brand of forgiveness has often looked like this: A shoe full of rocks, upturned and emptied, but with a single pebble remaining, rubbing and reminding.

That’s not really forgiveness. That’s moving forward… with a grudge in my pocket, with an elephant brain that grasps the past instead of focusing on the beauty and opportunity of the moment.

I vacillate between wanting to forgive wholly and wanting to protect myself from future harm. I think most of us do. Self-preservation is part of our human nature. But forgiveness doesn’t work that way. It’s an all or nothing prospect, really. Either you do it or you don’t. Halfway just leaves that pebble rubbing at your heel until it cracks and bleeds.

My wise friend, Amy, said last night, “I don’t think forgiveness is a ‘one time’ prospect. I think it happens moment by moment.” She couldn’t have spoken words truer to my heart. Once I’ve forgiven someone, I need to keep reminding myself of it, to continue to let the pain of the past go when it rears its ugly head. It does no good to build my arsenal of grievances to use later, to serve as evidence. That is always about me, about self-protection, about making my case.

And forgiveness, at its core, is not about our own selfish needs. It is about others. It is about grace.

One of the most moving documentaries I’ve ever seen is called “Fambul Tok.” It’s the story of a grass-roots human reconciliation project post the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone. Women forgiving men who raped them, a man who murdered his best friend’s father… Unspeakable acts of violence and pain, forgiven — human by human. It stuck with me, this one. If they can forgive such grievous crimes, why can I not forgive hurt feelings and broken promises?

And why wouldn’t I want to? Holding grudges is holding on to fear, and fear is not where I want to exist. And withholding forgiveness is its own form of self-destruction. That dark unhappiness nibbles away at your soul, erodes your inner peace.

Some people who hurt us grievously no longer deserve to be in our lives. And that’s okay. Forgiveness doesn’t mean going back for more, it means having the strength to keep walking, no backwards glances, no what ifs. As difficult as goodbyes are (and they are exceptionally tough for me), sometimes they’re necessary. We can forgive them, and we also can let them go. But when we let them go, we need to Let Them Go — Idina Menzel-style.

And the ones who stay? They deserve every broken and human part of us — just as we deserve every broken and human part of them. All in.

If I want to be forgiven, I must first forgive. It’s simple, really. So beautifully uncomplicated.

According to Gandhi, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

My head and heart wholeheartedly believe it. The rest of me is trying — second by second — to catch up.

The incomparable Mark Twain had this to say: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”

Whoa.

I’m striving to be the violet. Wholeheartedly, unabashedly, no strings attached. I used to think my life would be complete if I could sing onstage with Dave Matthews or write a NYT bestseller, but I think my ultimate goals might need to be revisited.

It’s this. Just this.

Radical Forgiveness.

My new mantra…

Be the Violet.

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About Katrina Anne Willis

Author, friend, lover, dreamer, drinker of red wine.
This entry was posted in Big Thinks and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Radical Forgiveness

  1. shelley says:

    You are so right on! I too have found it hard to forgive! I often would think if I forgive them then they win or i am saying it is ok what they said or did to me, but truly letting go and forgiving is such a freeing feeling and holding on just really affects me not anyone else! It still is sometimes to throw that pebble in but when I eventually do, I feel so much better! It is amazing how heavy that one little pebble had become! Thanks for sharing so eloquently what so many of us feel!

    • Me too, Shelley! I try hard to understand and always — always — want to be understood in return, but sometimes that battle isn’t one that can — or even should be — fought. If 44 years on this earth has taught me anything, it’s that we all approach life from a different vantage point. And although some views are panoramic, many are not. I try to remind myself of that every day. 🙂

  2. Mitzi says:

    Just…wow! Sadly, this is me as well. I am struggling right now with trying to move past the bazilliion times my oldeest daughter promises to call me with the grands or facetime with the grands and I just get pushed to the dark hole. Trying to maintain a relationship 3,000 miles away is tough when you are doing all the hauling in the wheelbarrow of life.

  3. Jan says:

    I think it was A Course in Miracles where I read, “Forgiveness offers me everything I need.” Amen to that! Now, as you say, if I could consistently just do it! Love this post, Katrina.

  4. robynbird says:

    Mon Dieu!
    Thank you, Katrina, for this beautiful post. Forgiveness is not selfish, but selfless and filled with grace, may we all be so graceful.
    Be the violet, indeed.

  5. Chris says:

    I have become a faithful reader of all your posts Katrina, each one better than the last. Your writing is a true gift. Thank you for this one, I’ve already read it several times:))

  6. Jynn says:

    This touched me deeply and has moved me to tears. This has been a painful struggle for me to forgive completely. What you expressed about self preservation and the tie to a lack of true forgiving has shed a ray of light on a subject I am trying to apply to my life on a spiritual level. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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