I have a couple of friends who know exactly what I mean when I start a conversation with "I'm a bad Buddhist."
They know I'm feeling less than charitable, way under compassionate, and perhaps not even up to civil with someone else's behaviour or words. And I see the irony, even as I hang on to the glum: while I hold this, I am giving them power over me.
Once in 1996, in rural Japan, a roughneck working guy decided I was too foreign and too female to share the narrow country road with him. He almost ran me off into a field passing me. I threw my hands in the air and gestured towards his car as if to say, "what the hell are you doing?"
He stopped his car and approached me worriedly. "What's the matter?"
I told him how close I came to landing in a flooded rice field.
He leaned down as if concerned, then rammed my head into the steering wheel, telling me I was an idiot, and a woman besides, and he'd do anything he wanted to do.
Later, in a police station in town, the detective who'd brought the guy in asked me to please sit and have tea with the man who hit me.
"But how will he say he's sorry if you don't meet him again?" He asked in a panic.
I refused. "I don't want to meet him again. I didn't want to meet him the first time."
And that's when I really realized how little forgiveness has to do with the other person.
What people really want when they talk about forgiveness is release from the connection to the pain of what hurt them. But it's not about being let go, it's about letting go, yourself, of what binds you to someone who did you wrong.
Forgiveness untangles you from the power of what or who hurt you and how the memory of that continues to exert influence over your present life.
The wounds linger in the blame, in the rage of injustice. By revisiting the righteous anger or pain, we relive it. By staying in that space, we turn around and give the bastards again what they first took without asking.
Does that mean we should let offenders off the hook? Not at all. Accountability, justice, and atonement are important components of getting past the events that caused pain, but forgiveness is even more personal.
Forgiveness is the moment when you say, "I had no control over what you did. But you don't get to steal another moment."
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