THE BLOG
04/08/2015 11:03 am ET Updated Jun 08, 2015

Forgiving Bad, Old Men

Reading about the array of age-related complaints from recent mafiosi arrested in New York the other week would be hilarious were it not for the fact that these self-pitying egos have left so many dead, maimed and impoverished in their wake. One arrestee moaned of backache and socket-popping joints. Another grovelled about having no teeth. Another gangster found guilty of extortion conspiracy was let off with a four month sentence after listing a bevy of maladies from Alzheimer's to kidney failure. The amelioration was instant the moment he left court.

Contended exaggerations aside, these desperadoes of thuggery illustrate the aim of old men who have behaved badly; lenient sentences now that they'd like to retire in their warm slippers by the fire, (or yachts in the marina). And the reality of a federal state too broken to subsidise their punishment (no one wants those medical bills), echoes the dilemma that some of us face: how to forgive. Because it is baffling how willing we are to do so when a man, of a previously badly-behaved younger self, is old and feeble.

Men who have inflicted humiliation and suffering in a domestic environment often become the ol' rogues around the Christmas table. Despicable when they can run a mile and practice sex, they become cute and cuddly when old. Perhaps not worthy of incarceration in a court of law, but surely of consideration when they expect care and hierarchical dibs within a family structure.

These old men often re-configure the brains of those they have hurt to suit their own lies. So we breathe a collective sigh of "Aaaah bless", now that the culprit is achy and torpid-toed. Those symptoms of a second childhood - hairless and helpless, wrinkly and smiley - become a way to dry the tears of the past. Like childbirth we forget the pain so that we may have the chance to enjoy the life ahead.

But for some a life of conviviality and thoughtfulness towards these ol' rogues can be hard. Should we aim for their redemption, even without their contrition? If so, we need rules to redress the state of confusion that has characterised the lives of the afflicted.

The roving eye of a husband who ends up the shrunken head of a family table as a benevolent grandfather, the stinging words of disparagement towards a spouse who now lays out tidy rows of needed medication, the years of fatherly neglect now demanding attention from children with their own lives; the hand that caressed and slapped with the same gesture, the entitlement, assertiveness, presumption, with not a moment's introspection about what they did or how they behaved.

For those who were hurt the memories are too exhausting and painful to recall. In the end they are easier to leave behind. After all there is a finite amount of "aliveness" that we can deal with in order to move forward. Our own wellbeing often depends upon letting go. But perhaps we should differentiate between letting go and leaving behind, and practice both when it comes to forgiveness. A sort of gentle sweep of those dark corners of denial, even if aggrieved by a few floating cobwebs of residual discomfort.

Consciously-understood repercussions, like sanctions, should be penalties for hurting others, even when the culprits are old. By tempering expectations of inclusivity, not as a given but bestowed by those who choose to be kind and loving, the ol' rogues should remain participants, not patriarchs in the lives of those where they seek care and validation. They are recipients of the generosity and affection from those who are better and more intelligent than they had a chance to be. And this acknowledgement comes with a gulp-full of humility, with a few drops of anointment towards redemption, bypassing full contrition.

In this way those of us who bump up against the challenge of all-out forgiveness could learn to let go while leaving those proponents of pain mentally behind. And maybe then we can forget, and, therefore, forgive; not exactly a proof-back guarantee that a future generation will escape the memories of trauma, but close.