Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I read The Life of Pi recently for my book club. I had nightmares in which I was lost at sea with my family. Nick, in a particularly misguided attempt to jolly me out of my fear, demanded to know whether I cannibalized the rest of them in my dream. His persistant questioning moderated my guilt over feeding him to our children in my dream. Next time, perhaps he'll let sleeping tigers lie. After the dream and the interrogation, I resolutely pushed the book out of my mind. I simply refused to think about it at all.

After no small amount of internal debate, I decided to attend the book club meeting. The hostess had a new house, Claire was in a particularly shrill mood, I wanted some wine and good company, I am a creature of habit, insert any other convenient reason here. I went. I took a deep breath and a gulp of wine and forced myself to think about the book. I am so grateful that I did. We had a wonderful conversation. Then as the lulls slowly began to overtake the conversation, we turned to the topic of forgiveness.

Someone had asked if Pi had a happy ending. Some of us thought so. Others, including me, disagreed. I pointed out the number of times Pi referred to a dead character and said that he thought of him/her/it every day. Ah, but forgiving isn't necessarily forgetting, said the other side. But forgiving does mean unburdening. Pi felt guilty, I countered. The reply was that he had nothing to feel guilty about. His behavior was expected - what any of us would do in his situation. What any number of people had done in his situation. And then - ephiphany! - accompanied by all the light and clarity that can be expected in any revelation.

There is a fundamental difference between excusing someone (or oneself) and forgiving someone (or oneself). How often I have offered an excuse instead of contrition! How often I have robbed someone of forgiveness in favor of excusing their behavior! "I'm sorry I snapped at you. I was tired." Bah! "It's ok. I'm not hurt because I know you were stressed out." Double bah! It seems so much easier to excuse than to forgive, but then I just end up carrying the burden of hurt plus the additional burden of excuses.

I am working very hard on using my newfound insight to change the way I offer and hear apologies. It is liberating to just admit that I hurt someone or someone hurt me without needing to explain it away. But I don't think I'll be going on a cruise anytime soon, just the same.

1 comment:

Mary Witzl said...

I've been doing research for a book I am writing, and one of the questions I've been trying to find an answer for is whether people who have been terribly wronged can learn to forgive. It seems that very few do. Whenever I have encountered people who do genuinely work to understand and forgive others, I am amazed. I find the ability to truly forgive more incredible than any skill I can think of. It is especially remarkable when those who are doing the forgiving have not received apologies from those who have wronged them.