“You’re never going to forgive me, are you?”
He waited patiently, but I wasn’t sure what to say. Truth be told, I didn't have a simple answer.
Most people who know me, also know I tend to overthink things. You’ll find me down a medical rabbit hole trying to self diagnose at 3am. Or inventing my downfall following a cringeworthy moment at the office (that likely no one even noticed in the first place). I say I have ‘spidey senses’…but it’s more likely I live in a perpetual state of light paranoia.
It should be of no surprise then, that the word forgiveness has now become a problematic one. In the past week alone, I’d spent so much time questioning, prodding and poking it, that the only thing I was certain of, was that alarmingly I may never have truly forgiven anyone.
But what does it mean to ‘forgive’ anyway? Growing up, forgiveness was no deeper than being let off the hook. Something a priest might deliver during confession. Something that can’t be given until asked for. By the time I was a teen I’d managed to equate it with complete absolution, and as I moved into adulthood and trivial mistakes were exchanged for heartbreak, rather than interrogate the concept, I simply raised the bar for what was deserving of forgiveness in the first place.
I thought about my partner’s mother, who spent nearly 30 years trying to resolve a fractured relationship with her own mother, only to realise her life felt fuller once she stopped making the effort. I remembered high school bullies, workplace bullies, and on the flip side, all the times I’d told myself the hurt was too insignificant to conflate it with anything that resembled a pardon. I simply picked myself up, and moved on.
Perhaps forgiveness wasn’t always a necessary outcome in the pursuit of happiness. Just as absolution wasn’t always deserved. If anything I rationalised, being unforgiving had been getting a bad rap.
And so, just as this piece of writing seems to find clarity, the sound of a toddler’s cough from the other room pulls me into the present, alerting me that my argument is about to come unstuck. The thought of my son instantly sends that high bar crashing down.
Suddenly, I feel confident in a different view.
I flash through imagined moments we’ll have together and every fibre in my being leans with a bias that he is deserving of forgiveness. I’ll always want to give it. I know it will help him learn that his mistakes won't define him. I’ll never wish to feel resentful towards him. I’ll often just want him to feel a bit special. And without question, when the time comes I’ll hope he’ll find it within to forgive me too.
I realise forgiveness is just another idiosyncratic human process. It doesn’t have magical powers, it can’t wipe the slate clean, and if you’ve read this far you’ll see it can be messy as well. For some it could take anywhere from a minute to a lifetime to arrive, but there’s no universal guarantee it will come. And perhaps all of the above is more normal than we think.
Or, maybe I’ve spent too much of my time overthinking it.