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The Truth About Forgiveness

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"Love is an act of endless forgiveness." -- Peter Ustinov

If love is a verb, than forgiveness is the action verb. It is the highest form of love and the single behavior that most distinguishes our human potential. In an ancient tale from the Kaballah, God told some angels in training that the capacity to forgive is the most excellent gift in the human experience, more essential to the continuity of life than the courage to sacrifice your own life for someone else or enduring the pain of giving life. God explained to the angel "Forgiveness is the only reason my creation continues. Without forgiveness, all would disappear in an instantaneous flash."

Certainly some might suspect this true with a quick glance to the Middle East. What would it look like if the rule of power and force was replaced with a mandate for the strength and courage of forgiveness? The comment by Desmond Tutu speaks volumes about the state of things: "Forgiveness and reconciliation are not just ethereal, spiritual, other-worldly activities. They have to do with the real world. They are realpolitik, because in a very real sense, without forgiveness, there is no future."

And yet we don't have to look that far. For most of us, right in our own homes we struggle with hurts, real and imagined, that separate us from the ones we say we love. The smallest of details in sharing a life with someone can easily and often without notice turn into a story line about the person you love. For years, my disregard of my husband's need for order and cleanliness and in turn his disgust at my laissez-faire approach to house cleaning came to mean everything. We weren't talking about behaviors where we dramatically differed, instead each housekeeping incident was a personal insult that with just a small push inflamed to fury about the other weak points in our relationship.

Before Christ was born, Marcus Aurelius said, "Our anger and annoyance are more detrimental to us than the things themselves which anger or annoy us." The petty arguments of life are the cracks in the foundation of the relationships we are building; and left unresolved they often fall into the established patterns of retreat and attack which impact both partner's ability to be emotional available and vulnerable. It is not that big a stretch to see how these behaviors adapt into the extremely common, no-win situation of the sexual initiation complex. The questions of who asks and who says no are salt in the wound and all the small disagreements come to mean everything about being both lovable and loving.

And what of all the broken hearts in the Middle East? Anyone you would ask on any street on either side, would tell you that they want the shooting, the bombing, the killing to end, and yet probably each and every one would also tell you why it must continue ... for the cousin, the brother, the lover, the parent or the child who was maimed, killed, forever injured. Every person living in that region has a story to be forgiven and a heart so heavy with grief that the courage to open to the pain and loss is often more than they can bear.

I have only experienced the deep life-changing balm of forgiveness in my life one time. Right at the moment when my marriage hung on the precipice of its end, we decided instead to forgive. I can't say who initiated it or even exactly how it happened, all I can say of that moment is that I couldn't remember any longer what it was to not be wanted -- that all the years of fighting over who we weren't for each other evaporated and what was left was a space to love someone for who they were. My intimate life, very much at the core of my marriage, reinvigorated itself with a curiosity and genuine interest that had always cowered behind our relentless arguments. I was blessed and have since that time tried to understand just how that could have happened and how I can do it again.

I think that forgiveness is an act of the imagination. It embraces the child's heart which is always ready to risk for a better moment and give up the hurt of the last one. Forgiveness is an innocent place where your hurt and pain does not have the final word. Yet there is little wisdom or strength that has more power to transform the world than the courage to bear witness to your pain and let go of it.

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