Sometimes When You Can’t Forgive, You Just Have To Forget (And That’s Okay)

Scrolling through my timeline on Facebook I found something interesting that I posted some time ago:

You know what’s the most difficult gift to give? It’s not a diamond encrusted watch, an entire castle or anything material like that. It’s not even love or friendship, because with time you can cultivate those.

It’s forgiveness. You can try to read a thousand self help articles. You can try to force yourself to forget, to get over it. But at the end of the day, you cannot manufacture true forgiveness. It has to come not just from the heart, but also from a willingness to let go. And letting go always seems easier than it really is.

Doesn’t it sound so simple? Like releasing a bunch of balloons into the sky. But then you see that there are a thousand chains with padlocks around your heart. And there is no key to be seen in sight. And even then you’re not forgiving out of mercy, but out of selfishness. You want peace for yourself. You’re only kind to yourself. You want to let go. But how can you, when you’re still lying to yourself that you’re being merciful to the other party?

They say time heals all wounds. But what they don’t mention is that the scars that are left behind are eternal. And somehow, you have to distill out a way to let go, a way to release all the anger and hurt and pain even as your scars are fresh. It takes real strength of character to do that. I wonder how many people who say they’ve “forgiven” others are really telling the truth.
Still looking for that beautiful essence gift-wrapped in a small white box. Perhaps someday I’ll find it.

Well, unfortunately that small white box has still eluded me.

I’m baffled. I really am. It’s been a few years since the Incident (with a capital I) occurred. At this point I don’t feel much lingering resentment. I haven’t seen the person in question for over a year now. And if you were to ask me to recount the entire series of events that led me to write that post, I would honestly be unable to provide a full, objective account.

So why can’t I forgive?

Forgive and forget. These two words always come together when people speak about moving on. Yet I find that it’s far easier to do the latter than the former. Forgetting something is easy – all you have to do is well, nothing, really. Let time do its job. Let the steady march of the seconds become the ebb and flow of the minutes and pretty soon some things will be gone from your mind. But forgetting something is not the same as forgiving — I find that being unable to remember your negative emotions is really a bastardized form of forgiveness.

You’re not doing it because you’ve finally let go, but because you are mentally capable of retaining only so much. And so the bad words, the heart wrenching emotions and bitter feelings slip past the gaps and flow out into the ocean of oblivion. You’ll never see them again, unless you summon a herculean effort and force yourself to relive those dark days. But why would you?

So is forgetting preferable to forgiveness? I can’t really say. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that forgiveness, true forgiveness, is inherently superior. It lets you lay down your worries, bury your sorrows and be truly at peace with yourself and the people who have caused you such torment. But as I mentioned in my old post, it takes a terrible amount of effort and decency to attain even a semblance of the forgiveness that saints and gods are capable of.

We are only human though, and perhaps we should not hold ourselves to such high standards. I realize now how many people I know haven’t actually managed to perform such a feat. When I probe gently on past hurts, they say things like “Oh, that was a long time ago. Forgive and forget” or “I don’t even see them anymore, it’s okay”. When I ask them if they think they’ve forgiven the people responsible, they smile and give vague disarming comments, stating that it doesn’t matter anymore. They think they’ve forgiven. But they haven’t. Not truly. They’ve forgotten.

I make it sound as though forgetting is a undesirable alternative to forgiveness. It looks like an ugly thing, a second-class option. But if you are scouring your soul all the time, wracking your brain and wondering why on earth you can’t accomplish this, asking questions like Am I horrible person? Am I so petty? Am I a grudge-holder? then perhaps forgetting is in fact the better of the two. Constantly berating yourself for a past hurt in which you were the victim? Not very healthy. Forgiveness should come naturally and be an unexpected revelation. A sense of understanding and peace that settles over you without you being aware of it. Not roughly forced, like a child stuffing a round block into a square hole. The only thing you get is even more frustration and doubt, precisely the things you don’t need at the moment.

I recognize now that I haven’t forgiven because I am on the path of forgetting. And it may not be the optimal path, but I don’t have the luxury of time or the angelic wisdom of a saint. And I am alright with that. We have only so much time left in our mortal existence – I would rather devote my remaining seconds to the present and the future rather than grudgingly attempt to heal the past with pathetically inadequate bandages. Forward is the only way to go, after all. I may not ever see that little white box, but I can take comfort in knowing that it’s somewhere in the hands of other people – people who have much greater hurts and sorrows, people who need its healing power far more than I do, people who need to move on.

Farewell, Little White Box. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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