Just wrote this to Arkansas Meg, who always gets me thinky:
I read an article somewhere recently suggesting that forgiveness is overrated. All the self-help books tell us we absolutely have to forgive, but maybe we just don’t. I don’t even remember how the article concluded, but my conclusion is this: maybe there’s an important distinction between understanding and forgiving.
We can understand exactly why our parents were the way they were, and have a great deal of sympathy for them, and appreciate that our childhoods were, in fact, better than theirs. We can understand that they tried so hard, even if they were trying hard at the wrong goddamn things. But that doesn’t necessarily mean forgiving them. It doesn’t mean absolving them of the responsibility they had to make us feel secure, loved, taken care of. It was their goddamned responsibility, and they blew it. I don’t think we have to pretend that’s not true, or just “let it go.”
But holding on to it doesn’t necessarily mean hating them, or being eaten up by anger, either. It just means holding on to one true thing, among a whole lot of other true things–like, for instance, the truths that they did their best at the time, and we can’t change any of it, and we’re responsible for ourselves now. One fact doesn’t cancel out another, even if they seem at odds; if they’re both facts, they’re both facts, period. So you can love deeply but never forgive, I think, if that’s what feels the most honest. Forgiving in itself doesn’t release you from anything, if you still feel owed down deep. What releases you (um, I think, since I’ve only felt on the verge of release for like a week now) is seeing things as they really are.
For instance… I just “forgave” a hundred bucks’ worth of a loan I made to a friend a few months back. And I did it because I wanted to, period. So I don’t feel as if she owes me that hundred bucks at all anymore. In strictly monetary terms, the debt hasn’t disappeared; when the rest of the loan is paid off, I’ll be down a hundred bucks. But in the only important way, the debt has disappeared, because I changed how I feel about that particular hundred bucks–it’s no longer part of a loan; it’s now a gift. It’s hers, not mine. I decided that, I told her, and I no longer have a right to consider it something she owes me, even if that’s what it was originally.
That’s what I think forgiveness is, and exactly why we use that term with regard to monetary debts. Forgiveness is saying that you no longer feel owed. But that would be a lie for me, when it comes to my parents (and a few other people). I do still feel owed, dammit!
So maybe, instead of forgiving them, what I really need to do is send their debts to collection– cut my losses, and officially declare it Not My Problem Anymore. I’m still owed, but you can’t get blood from a turnip; those are the hard facts. So now I can stop wasting my time harassing them–and everyone I meet who reminds me of them–to pay the fuck up, and refocus on the things I can get, which will make my life a hell of a lot easier. But I never have to say they didn’t have a responsibility to pay up in the first place.