08/20/2014 10:12 am ET Updated Oct 20, 2014

Who Are We If We Forgive? Who Are We If We Don't?

I have a friend who was attacked as a child and her attacker went to jail but he's due to get out. She has to walk back into the dark and remember that girl, that child, that man. Who was she? Who is she?

We all, who are asked to forgive, have to make that choice. The girl who was attacked. The men accused of attacking -- those five men who spent years in prison for the Central Park rape. They were teenagers when they were imprisoned for a crime they did not commit. Nelson Mandela. Every kid who's been beaten by his or her father, cursed by the grandfather, shunned by the mother.

I can say, I had a terrible childhood but that would not be true. I can say, some of my childhood was absolutely terrifying. I was that child, stripped down to torn shorts and a t-shirt, being told clearly what to do to stay out of trouble and ignoring that. Over and over. My parents chose not to raise me. And once you take parents out of the equation, it's hard for anyone to feel surges of love for a child who simply tears back at the world. I remember canoeing around Lake Winnipesauke and even then in the calm twilight with enough mosquito repellant to drown my skin in oil I beat the water with my paddle and wished I could fight the powers of the adults who threatened us. I wanted to fight much more than I wanted to simply paddle around that lake hearing the loons.

To forgive your parents is one thing. They made decisions with the information they had. To forgive as Nelson Mandela, Gandhi or the Dalai Lama did is an act of grace that many of us will never experience.

To forgive a singular act of violence is bigger than most of us can imagine. We do not say, in some other world, that could have been me. If you don't possess that degree of pathology, it could not have been you. Not in any world. So how do you not simply say he was an animal, an inhuman monster... I forgive nothing?

If we do not forgive, we stain our own soul. We leave ourselves ripe for poison. Open to all the black toxin of creation. There is evil in the world and if we do not forgive, the evil is in us. It's that simple; I want joy, I want love, I want grace; therefore, I forgive my father. I forgive my mother. I hope I too will be forgiven for all my wrongs in this and every life. Forgiveness is what gives us largeness of heart. I have known a few people whose hearts are big enough to birth a planet. Open your hands. Open your heart. Forgiveness doesn't mean you're saying what they did was OK. It was not OK. Ever. It's you. It means you are no longer holding this dark sick poisonous thing in your hands. Turning it over and over, examining it like a treasure until you have nothing else. Forgiveness is dropping the dark thing and saying, I'm free of it. Drop the ring. You never needed to disappear. Just drop it and then the eagles pick you up and then you're flying.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.