It’s December, and this year the weather has been pretty unforgiving. Virginia is typically fairly mild before the new year, but 2018 has been marked by heavy snow, ice, bitter cold temperatures, and today rainfall, which is likely to cause flooding. It’s pretty, to be sure, but it’s not happy for humans (or hounds, as my dog Gypsy will attest).
But it’s also getting close to Christmas, and, for me, that makes it a time for reflection, particularly on family. I’ve seen my family break apart and come back together; we’ve lost people and sought those who are left in our grief–or sometimes lack of grief. We talk about the angers and feelings of betrayal that have weighed us down and driven us away from each other.
That always brings me to the question of forgiveness. I am a Christian, and in our tradition forgiveness is supposed to be a central tenet of our belief system. I see lots of posts on Facebook and other social media, as well as signs in people’s yards and on churches and stores encouraging us to forgive, as we expect to be forgiven. Sometimes, the focus is on how healing forgiveness is for the forgiver, how it makes a person feel better to forgive.
As though that made forgiveness easier.
Forgiveness is not easy. If it were, we wouldn’t need to be told over and over to do it. It would come naturally. It’s much easier to pretend a piety when necessary, and then to stew over past injustices and betrayals. I recall a person from my past who used to love to preach on Sundays but then proudly proclaimed that (this is a true story) that he would only wear Black Watch plaids because the motto of the Black Watch was “Nemo me impune lacessit” (or, roughly: “nobody messes with me and gets away with it”).
I, too, like Black Watch plaid, but mostly for the colors.
Forgiveness need not be “earned,” either. I have often heard the opinion that forgiveness requires an apology or recognition of the wrong done on the part of the forgiven party. Hmm. I have thought this myself at times, but I’ve come to think that such a path is really the easy one. It’s much easier to forgive a contrite person than it is to forgive someone who either doesn’t know or doesn’t care–or doesn’t believe–that they have done injury.
And yet, we are commanded to forgive. Not to forgive those who are really sorry, but to forgive. It’s not easy. It’s not instantaneous. For me, it requires empathy, which is also difficult sometimes to create.
Many scholars have written about empathy, and the power of novel-reading to create it. I believe this, because I have too often felt myself changed for the better after reading a good story. Stories do have the power to evoke emotional connection to people who are different from us–and who fail in the same ways that we do. I often end a good book with an inward-looking eye, that sees my own failures and moments of insensitivity or cruelty more acutely than I see those of others.
These short, dark days are perfect for reading.
And this time of year is a good one to begin to work on empathy, and forgiveness. And when I can accomplish that–more beam-pulling than mote-picking–I can forgive. And then, yes, I do feel better–and more human.