Forgiveness does not excuse a person from having done wrong, nor is it a gift of redemption one gives to someone else. Forgiveness is not extended to another person for the other person’s benefit. It is a gift to oneself to achieve a measure of peace. That’s a lesson I’ve taken the better part of sixty-five years to learn. And I’m still learning it, still trying to internalize it so it becomes second nature. Though not truly a resolution, I decided a few days ago that I would begin 2019 by forgiving all the wrongs, real or imagined, done to me or to my sensibilities. That includes forgiving even myself for what I’ve done to myself and to others. I can’t “fix” all the damage, but I can make an effort to avoid creating more. At the moment, perhaps one of the most difficult things I’m finding to forgive is what I did to myself and to my wife by smoking for so many years. All I can do is to my damnedest to overcome the consequences. And I can be grateful I stopped smoking when I did; things could have been worse. Interesting, forgiveness and gratitude seem intertwined for some reason. I see that as a positive. But with forgiveness, especially forgiveness extended to oneself, there’s another sense that’s extremely hard to overcome and that interferes with forgiveness. That sense is regret. I regret having been a smoker. And the harm caused by smoking is hard to forgive. Yet the fact that there’s nothing I can do to change the past, and the need to achieve some measure of peace in spite of it, leaves me no choice but to try to forgive myself. The reality is that I can’t “unsmoke” all those cigarettes I smoked, so I can’t “make it right.” The alternative to forgiving myself and to letting the regret slip away is to permit myself to suffer for past mistakes that I’ve long since corrected. If I hadn’t corrected them, the story might be different. But I did. So…so…so what? Perhaps the lesson is that regret is impossible to dissolve with forgiveness, but it can be minimized by paying a price. And that price is forgiveness.
The next lesson, perhaps, is how can one be forgiven by others? The answer is straightforward. One can be forgiven by others only when they are ready to give themselves that gift. I think I’m writing in circles. I know I’m thinking in circles. I sound like I’m thinking in clichés. But these subjects and the aphorisms that arise around them (and cling to them like barnacles to a sunken ship’s hull, to use an odd, out of place simile) intrigue me and help shape the way I think.
When I think of the things I’ve regretted doing, or not doing, I realize I’ve created a very, very long list over the course of my sixty-five years. The process of minimizing the sense of regret for all those acts and omissions will involve enormous volumes of self-forgiveness, the capacity for which I seriously doubt I have. I suppose a place to start may be with the “big” things, the stuff that caused the most hurt. Even the formidable task of whittling the list down in such a way overwhelms me. From what I’ve written, one might get the idea that I feel like I’m a pretty miserable human being, having done so much harm and having so much to regret; yes and no. I don’t feel that I’ve engaged in significantly more or less hurtful acts or omissions than the average person, but I think I may tend to be more conscious of them. Or maybe not. I don’t know what other people think. I only know I don’t see as much evidence of regret in others as I feel in myself. Others may feel the same. But I have, for much of my life, tended to document (not necessarily publicly) things I’ve done or said about which I regret. I haven’t seen so much in others. Yet they, too, simply may not share their most private thoughts with the world at large. Reading my blog, one might assume I share ALL of mine; I don’t.