Forgiveness Sunday

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Контент 18+ Although I am in Bulgaria now, I was reminded yesterday of something I always thought was beautiful in Russia -- the part of Maslenitsa, the Sunday of that week, when people are supposed to ask forgiveness from those they feel they have wronged. I don't know how many really put this into practice, nor could I hope to guess if it is always expressed as a sincere sentiment or if, for the emotionally opportunistic types, it is just a cool way to be let off the hook. I mean, how hard-hearted would it be to tell such a supplicant to sod off, “I forgive NOTHING!” --?
Be that as it may, as far as I know, there is no such day in England or America, or anywhere else I have been, and I think it is a noble and worthwhile concept. And it got me to thinking about the very idea of 'forgiveness' and what all it entails. There was a famous film many years ago which was called "Love Story." It was about two Harvard kids who fell in love. Unfortunately, the girl contracted leukemia and in those days it was a sure death sentence.

So the film was a real tear-jerker, and the most provocative line that came out of it was when one of them -- the dying girl, I think -- said "Love means never having to say you're sorry." At the time, a lot of people debated that notion. I interpreted it to mean that if you really love somebody you don't go around doing bad things to them that you later need to apologize and ask forgiveness for. But of course there is another saying: "You always hurt the one you love" -- and I think that one gets closer to the mark in the real world.

It seems to me that when two people fall in love, they begin with the great fiction that they adore each other so much and understand each other so well that they will never have a falling out. But naturally they do. I don't mean a harmless little spat; I mean that something will happen which causes one or the other to really lose it. During the shouting match that ensues, Romeo and Juliette see, in force, just how ugly and hateful the other can be. Afterwards -- at least while the relationship is still fresh -- they kiss and make up and break the bed down with their renewed passion.
But I can attest to the fact that, after that first volcanic eruption, things are never quite the same. You have seen the beast in the other person. Moreover, what normally goes down is that, as the shine inevitably fades from the 'love' -- replaced by peevishness and boredom -- the pair begin finding faults in each other, and in many cases start acting like lawyers: meticulously and maliciously compiling a dossier listing the shortcomings of the other person. In the end, it is not uncommon that they start literally hating each other. Funny that, isn't it -- how often you ending up hating the very one you set out to love? It's sad.

After the break-up, divorce or whatever, a l-o-n-g cooling off period is needed before the two parties can begin to think rationally again. In the final stage of this melancholy farce, most often when they are so old that they probably wouldn't even recognize each other if they crossed in the street, they 'forgive' the past. Now, to me, that's REALLY sad. Why? Because by then it doesn't matter anymore. The time to forgive meaningfully evaporated long ago.
As an old alcoholic friend of mine once said, "Holding onto a resentment is like taking the poison yourself and expecting the other person to die."
There is another issue here. Forgiveness is often coupled with an additional word, and it comes out in a binomial: "Forgive and Forget." The problem is that true forgiveness cannot happen without the second idea ('forget') coming into force. Many times I have heard people say, "I can forgive him/her, but I will never forget." But how is it possible to really forgive someone if you feel you must remain forever on your guard, if, in the back of your mind, you remember (bitterly, for how can it be otherwise?) the nature of the offense?

Or maybe, we never forgive; maybe we merely agree to 'excuse'. There is a Russian saying that a friend quoted to me recently. In English it comes out something like this: "Russians don't love BECAUSE of, they love IN SPITE OF." I can interpret this in two different ways. (1) We have to love SOMETHING, and imperfection is all we can ever expect; and (2) -- which I prefer -- we should try to love the whole person and accept this person as he/she is, without cutting them in half with pros and cons. (Pros 7, Cons 6 = I love him/her...well, heck, a little bit, I guess). No, the second option suggests that we embrace the whole, the sour with the sweet.
Strangely, it seems to be those with the highest principles of right and wrong, not to say the highest intellect, who find it hardest to forgive. They are the lofty moralists who, once violated, never bend. But to me, this is rather like the person (usually a woman) who, disappointed (or violated) in love the first time, refuses ever to open her heart again. Better -- to my mind -- the brave ones who, like the phoenix, keep rising from their own ashes.

Conversely, it's the more sleazy, shady folk who seem able to forgive without much of a problem. Or is it simply because, being cynical about both themselves and others, they have lower expectations from the outset? I mean, how can you be surprised if a prostitute or a crack addict lets you down? Alliances in a den of thieves come and go, and no one is astonished if the guy who helped you rob the liquor store last night absconds with all the money the next day.
I hated quite a few of my classmates when I was between the ages of 13-18. I was never a pushover and no one ever stole my lunch money, but somehow I never seemed to quite fit in, and back then I wanted to. I wasn't one of the 'popular' kids, which is so important to the cliquish Americans. I felt left out, even laughed at, and I despised the ones who seemed so cozy and comfortable inside their group and, above all, inside their own skin. I could never figure out what I was doing wrong.

But I have a friend from back then who is something of a genealogist and who still goes to the high school reunions. He turned out to be the key that unlocked my past. Gene has sent me many photos of students from the Class of 1967 (I therefore know which of them are dead), and I see them as they are now --a far cry from back then, as you might imagine. .
Most of them look like hell. The lady-killers and tough guys of that bygone era are just old farts at this point -- most of them-- bald-headed and breaking wind every time they bend over to tie their shoes. Just think: once they were warriors, or thought they wore. Now just old grandpas.Harmless. And the sought after girls, while not yet ancient, have lost the glow that made me want them -- unsuccessfully -- so much. Alas, they are shriveling into the facelessness of female old age.
I hated them because I felt they rejected me and mocked my innocence. But did they really -- and do they now -- hate me? I think they have forgotten all about me. So I must conclude that it never was about them -- rather it was about me. I probably hated myself more than they ‘hated’ me, and most likely they didn’t hate me at all. I wasn’t worth the effort.
So if I can’t forgive the past -- and all the ills real and imagined -- then it is truly my own problem, is it not? How then can I forgive myself?
I am reminded of a cowboy series that used to be on American TV. In one episode there was a guy who had had his right arm shot off by some villain long ago, and for the next 50 years he practiced shooting with his left hand, perfected it, and plotted his revenge. Somehow he got wind of the fact that his old nemesis would be arriving by stagecoach at a certain town. So he went there and waited, figuring to settle the score at last.

Still seething with hatred, he watched as the stagecoach arrived and the people got out. But he didn't see the guy. So he shouted out, "Was Bill Johnson on this coach???"
And one little old fellow with a bad limp replied, his voice weary and bewildered , "I'm Bill Johnson. Why? What do you want?"
Television used to be good, and there were many great script writers. This was one example. The man with revenge in his heart looked stunned. He was expecting to see Bill Johnson as he had been half a century ago. So he glared at the old gaffer and cried, "Don't you remember what you did to me back in ''77?"
The old man looked even more perplexed and he just stared for a moment at his would-be adversary.
Finally, he said, "No, I have no idea what I might have done to you. But whatever it was... I'm sorry."
I’m sorry. And it was said with a profound sincerity even though the old fellow had no idea what he was supposed to be sorry for.
And he limped away, leaving the other man choking with tears of rage, frustration, and, above all, a kind of grief that neither words, nor 50 years of vindictive fury could ever hope to express.
I guess that God is the last option in these cases. If it works for you, go for it. God is held up as the all-perfect, and -- quirky me -- it is one reason I have always disliked ‘God’ instead of loving ‘Him’. I could only love a God who needed compassion and mercy as much as I do. I could forgive that god, even as I asked him to forgive me also,

===Eric Richard Leroy===

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