I have watched a number of friends, family members, and public officials over the past few years argue with themselves about how much they do or do not believe in love because they, in some terrified hour, had reached the conclusion that without forgiveness there can be no love and forgiveness is not always an easy thing to give. What, after all, does one do with the pain as yet lingering from the initial transgression that made forgiveness necessary in the first place and what guarantees are there that such stinging transgressions will not occur again?
“Love suffers all things and endures all things,” wrote the great Christian martyr and Biblical author of Corinthians; few would have known the truth of those words better than the Apostle Paul because few have had to forgive quite so much as he.
Forgiveness, like love itself, requires an emptying of one’s ego-driven conscious being that allows rage to be replaced with compassion, resentment to take a back seat to trust, and Love to declare itself mightier than the urge to slap a grinning face or gleefully invest in the latest semi-automatic handgun while singing songs of revenge to melodies for songs of lust.
I’m thinking at the moment in a parable mode grounded in reality, about two women who had known each other almost all their lives. For this blog we’ll call them Gina and Theresa. Their families had been so close there were periods during hard times when they actually shared the same house and sometimes the same bed. They grew up to become independent women with different yet complimentary personalities and in their young adulthood they enjoyed getting a little drunk and telling stories about the poverty of their youth. They also, however, when skunk-funky drunk, would insult each other and the insults became more bitter as they got older. Gina would claim Theresa’s parents exploited her parents’ generosity, and Theresa would remind Gina how she used to pee in the bed and make her miserable on freezing winter nights. The way they usually forgave each other for these alcohol-induced charges while never mentioning the actual offense was with a calculated act of kindness, such as a simple present or one calling the other to make sure she was watching an exceptional TV program.
But sometimes they forgot to forgive or apologize and the drunken slight would deepen into something close to a religion of seething hatred. It was that borderline hatred that must have been bubbling beneath the surface when Gina had a dinner party and seasoned a pot of vegetable stew with crab meat that she had known forever but somehow forgot would cause Theresa to break out and make her face look like a Halloween mask. Two years passed before Gina decided that a vacation for Theresa and her boyfriend would be the perfect I’m-sorry-please-forgive-me gift. Because they had not communicated in those same two years, she knew nothing about the pancreatic cancer that had swooped in and taken over her friend’s life, leaving her just enough time to see Theresa’s eyes light up with recognition then close forever.
And now I’m thinking about the friendly South Carolina senator who took the unprecedented step of calling a U.S. president a liar in front of a world television audience and it’s my thought at this moment off the top of my head that he should be whole-heartedly forgiven because I suspect that the words “You Lie” actually suppressed an entire string of different words. “Like what?” one might ask. Well, for example, something like this: “Somebody need to make that goddamned ____ shut up!” The blank in this emotional outburst would be filled in with an historically heinous term beginning with the letter “n” and followed by an “i” then two “g’s,” an “e” and an “r”. It may very well have taken a great deal of moral and even heroic strength to resist screaming such an exclamation in public and so forgiveness would indeed be warranted. It would also help our beloved Congress to move on to more pressing business, like assuring consumers it is now ok for them to invest in my books and securing ways to nullify the world-wide perceived necessity of war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Georgia, the Sudan, or anywhere else.
Love as a spiritual or philosophical principle is worth every poem, book, song, down-on-bended-knee proposal, legend, myth and dream ever manifested in its name. Love as a concrete foundation for an authentically functional civilization requires the around-the-clock labors of forgiveness. Without it, Love fails, Friendship fails, Intelligence fails, Humanity: fails.