One of the lessons I’ve learned along the way is that forgiveness, like love, is expressed through action.
Witnessing acts of forgiveness is incredibly powerful and life-affirming. We know we have forgiven ourselves when we break a self-destructive habit, such as addiction, or form new, life-affirming ones. We know we’ve forgiven others when we stop doing things to make them angry.
A divorced male friend recently shared this story with me: He and his ex see a child development specialist every couple of weeks to understand and try to mitigate the effects of their break-up on their five-year-old child (which I think is a very mature approach on their part). My friend’s ex had introduced her boyfriend to their daughter, a man with whom she had recently broken up. She was asking the specialist how to handle it when their daughter asked for her boyfriend by name.
My friend, meanwhile, was fuming. He sat in his chair, gripping its arms with his hands until his knuckles were white. He had been upset with her decision to introduce this man to their child, questioned her normally sound judgment and, though he desperately wanted to seethe, “I told you so!,” he held his tongue and calmly asked the child development specialist, “Is it possible that our daughter associates this man with Mommy’s happiness? and that, rather than the ex boyfriend, our daughter simply misses seeing Mommy happy?”
The child development specialist agreed that this was likely, and suggested the ex-wife ignore any of their daughter’s references to the ex boyfriend. My friend, meanwhile, was quite proud of his restraint. It even earned him a positive email from his ex-wife. But I wonder if he even recognized his action for what it was: an act of forgiveness.
I recently experienced such an incredibly generous act of forgiveness that I want to share it here. I requested a networking coffee with a man whose company for which I had done some work (more than a decade ago). This man has seen my highs and lows, including me in the midst of my most morally bereft phase (I think a lot us were there in the late 90s).
Simply meeting me was a generous gift of his time. Then he told me that he had always seen my talent, appreciated my personality and was thrilled to see the light inside me shining brightly again. I actually teared up. Even knowing the lowest points in my personal history, he sat across from me, looked into my eyes and uttered these warm and positive words. After an hour, we embraced and parted.
Every moment and every word was, to me, an act of forgiveness. And it was painfully humbling. I confess, I questioned my worthiness. How could I possibly deserve such grace? Yet every religion on Earth makes allowances that we might all be forgiven, healed and made whole.
Now if only I could learn to forgive myself and others with such grace and generosity!