The flight was delayed just enough for me to miss my upcoming connection into Oakland, but whatever, I’ll deal with it when I get to Phoenix. No sense in worrying myself to death at 30,000 feet – if I’m going to pick something to fuss over for the next four hours, it shouldn’t be that.
But, even as my mind races around faster than I can follow it – How am I going to deal with my student loans this month? When’s the next #BlackLivesMatter meeting again? I need to get a parking pass from Cal. I don’t really think there’s a point in dating right now. I wonder if I can get on standby the for next flight? It’s been a month already – none of the thoughts actually trouble me. There’s no point in identifying with them; they’re just up there in the spare bedroom of my mind.
I often have this weird, present, Zen-like energy come over me when I’m on a plane, and can sense it from some others around me, too. Maybe it’s because there’s no Wifi, or movie, or anything to distract us, so we just have to sit here in our own thoughts. There’s nothing for it, and we can either choose to be pissed about the hour and a half delay that’s going to make us miss our connecting flights and put as back at least six hours, or we can just sit here and quietly work out what’s going on in our hearts and minds.
Forgiveness is on my heart and mind lately, where it has stayed for several days. It is probably the holiday season and the approach of the year and my quarter life crisis, but forgiveness – what it is and what it isn’t – is on my heart and mind.
I don’t understand much about forgiveness aside from it being a concept that is tossed around a bunch in old sayings and seasons greetings. “Forgive, but never forget,” is one that I have never quiet understood when it comes to interpersonal relationships... if I’m not forgetting, does that mean I’m holding on to what the person or thing or God “did to me” or made me feel? What is the purpose of holding something in my memory for safe keeping if the point of forgiveness is to release; to let go? I don’t know. Just my musings from 30,000 feet somewhere between El Paso and Phoenix.
“Forgiveness is more for the forgiver than the forgiven,” is one I can identify a little more with, but it’s incomplete. It is true that I have let anger and resentment build up in my gut until it’s rotten and I can think of nothing but the ill thoughts I have for someone. It is acidic and it burns me, stripping away layers of my humanity from the inside. But it also hurts the other, the one who hurt me or made me feel some deep pain I didn’t want to feel. At my worst, I damage them with words of retaliation, like a dog beaten one too many times, and at my best (which is still a work in progress), I simply wish them well and do my best to silence the voices in my mind that criticize them.
That’s the hardest thing about forgiveness – I can will myself toward it, but when the person goes and does the next thing that harms me, I am back where I started again, and the voices turn back on: How could you do this to me after all the pain you’ve caused already? You betrayed my trust! I must mean absolutely nothing to you. Here we go again, and on and on and on.
So what I thought I had forgotten, I had neither forgotten nor forgiven – I just had stored it away for my own peace of mind and so as not to harm the other. But as soon as I feel I am wronged again, the lid to the jar I had stored all of their other shit is blown off, and when it is I remember it all, and its contents suddenly become that person’s entire being: Of course, why should I even be surprised?
True forgiveness must be true forgetting.
And I don’t think it’s actually possible to literally forget – our brain and bones hold those memories for us always.
But maybe, just maybe, it is possible to hold those memories – which happened in the past and have nothing to do with the present – as what they are: memories. They are not what the person is at their essence (or hell, maybe they are, but I’m not going to waste any more of my time or rot any more of my gut trying to find out!)
To forgive is to let someone be human, and at times, inhuman. To make mistakes is to be human; to be forgiven (and forgotten) is a rare blessing; and to forgive (and forget) truly is virtuous.
In lieu of recent events and the long-standing history of violence against people of color and the oppressed in the U.S. and abroad, my feelings on forgiveness and letting go are practically, if not entirely, opposite. Anger, outrage, and passion are all vital to movements, as are love, compassion, and community. It is our compassion and love for our brothers, sisters, and cousins that we stop at nothing to defend them – to decry to violence done to them.
In the case of these brutal histories, I will not and cannot forget. It is forgetting that allows the systemic brutality to continue – our attempts to bury and forget the horrors of slavery are resurrected daily in the countless murders of Black people and the slave labor performed daily in the prisons we disproportionately are sentenced to. In the case of these brutal histories, “it is our duty to fight for our freedom,” and that fight means knowing our history and its children that now roam freely on our backs.
These are the two contradictions of forgiveness in my life. For all of the boiled anger and tears spent, something in the depth of me holds on to the notion that people can and do change – that they can be transformed. And only love can do that.
Earlier this morning, I hit the “send” button on an email to a person I have not spoken to in nearly three years. In my heart and mind, she had committed an offense worse than simply harming me – she harmed the person closest to me in deep, damaging ways. I refused to contact her even after that person themselves had forgiven her. The ego, scorned, allows me only to stubbornly hold onto the story I have made a person into, and for what?
It is true that my brain and bones hold memories of the shouting matches, the hollowness in my chest, the tough times... but my heart also holds whole ones. Aren’t the people connected to those memories as complex as the memories themselves?
I’m off to have tea with forgiveness tomorrow, and forgetness the next day.
musings of a Black, queer and genderqueer activist, educator, musician.