I needed a reminder that I was still a good person.
You see, last week I found myself months-deep in my email inbox, looking for a document for the ever-dreaded tax season. I typed some keywords into the search bar, hit enter, and watched the results populate. The first thing I saw, however, wasn’t the email I was looking for – it was one I never really wanted to see again, but there it was.
I should have deleted that email long ago. To be honest, I think I only kept it to refer to in moments where I wondered, “Did that REALLY happen? Did this person REALLY speak to me that way? Did this person REALLY blindside me like that and make me wonder if I was as horrible as they wrote?” When I needed the reminder that, yes, those things were all true, there sat that email to give me the proof I needed. It probably isn’t a healthy practice to revisit, even subconsciously, a moment that causes you great pain – but I think I was in such disbelief for so long that it was part of my process of acceptance, moving on, and forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a tricky, tricky thing – and in this particular situation, the work of forgiveness made me angry. It’s one thing to be wronged by someone and have them come to you, arms wide and heart apologetic as they lay down the acknowledgement of what they’ve done to you. You, as the forgiver, still bear the weight of working through your emotions and granting forgiveness when and how you see fit, but you’re not the only person in the conversation. An entirely different level of effort is required when you have nothing from the other person but the pain they’ve left you with – no apologies, no contrition, no acknowledgement, no agreement to sit down and talk it out – but in order to save yourself, you still have to find forgiveness on your own. It’s exhausting. It’s unfair. It’s anger-inducing. That exhaustion and unfairness and anger wrapped up in the process of forgiveness can make the whole thing implode from the inside out – but as I’ve learned, the process is largely inevitable, so you’ve got to push through.
I’ve had to question how effective the act of forgetting is in relation to forgiveness. Forgetting feels good, and when you remember that you’ve forgotten, it can feel like a step towards being able to forgive. When you forget, and move on, and start living your life outside of whatever connections you had with that person – when you do those things, you start to fill your life with new experiences that can soften the blow of the hurt you felt before. But inevitably, you remember. Something reminds you of that person or that situation, and one of two things happen. Either you remember and it doesn’t hurt as much (or at all), and you’re able to smile at your growth and perhaps even look up to the sky and wish that person well, wherever they are. Or, an uncomfortable pressure builds up in your chest and tries to bubble out of your eyes, and you swallow it down, convincing yourself you didn’t feel it. In one situation, forgetting moves you towards forgiving. In the other, forgetting is a flimsy mask for the forgiveness process. I’ve been on both sides, but I know which one feels better.
When I came across that old email the other day, I felt enough of that pressure building to concern me. In the past, I’d been able to smile and nod to the sky, so hadn’t I reached forgiveness? Hadn’t I actually stated out loud in the past that I’ve forgiven this person? So why was I now feeling like I had taken a step back? What I’ve learned here is that forgiveness can be a straightforward process, or it can come in and out like the tide. Maybe I haven’t fully reached the destination yet, or perhaps it’ll be a cyclical thing where the biggest goal will be to make sure each low moment is higher than the last. Then eventually, maybe one day it’ll all even out.
In writing this post, I can say that my biggest win has been taking the lens of forgiveness from the external to the internal. What I mean by this is that I’ve moved from wondering why, wondering what I did to make this person act the way they did, wondering what was and is going through their head – I’ve stopped caring. I know I’ll never get those answers, and even if I did at this point, they’ve lost the impact they could have on my forgiveness process. I’ve moved that lens internally, where it should be. I’ve learned to focus on what I need to do to feel good, what I can do to be a better person in the future, what I can do to accept what was and move on to what will be in my life. Forgiveness is a process for me, not for anyone else. Once I realized that, the process started to flow more authentically without cliched expectations of how it should feel.
So, I’m still on the journey of this and other paths of forgiveness in my life. Being able to forgive – or more realistically, dedicate myself to the process of forgiveness – reminds me that I’m still a good person, and I’m getting better every day.