It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.
~ Oscar Wilde ~
Just shy of two months after surgery to remove the cancer-laden lower lobe from my right lung, I wrote the following:
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.
The issue of forgiveness keep popping up in my mind for reasons too involved to get into here. But no matter the context, the issue with which I find it most difficult to cope is self-forgiveness. It’s a subject that has long been on my mind; literally for many years. On the one hand, it seems self-serving and undeserved. On the other, if self-forgiveness enables one to improve the lives of others in some small measure, then maybe it is not so self-serving. But the argument never holds; guilt and shame conspire to douse that phoenix arising from the ashes of doubt.
The sermon delivered by the UU minister this past Sunday dealt with forgiveness, though the topic was “universal salvation.” In my mind, that concept presupposes so many things I cannot bring myself to believe that I could barely wrap my head around the topic, itself. But I’m much more tolerant and far more flexible in my thinking than I was just a few years ago. It’s no long impossible for me to listen to such discussions…universal salvation, heaven, hell, etc., as if the concepts were based in verifiable reality. “What comes after…?” My answer is this: “For the one whose life has ended, nothing. It’s over. Complete. And the real finality will come, as the Jewish saying goes, ‘when one’s name is spoken for the last time.’ Yes, I’ll acknowledge uncertainty about that, but I am far more confident of that ‘fact’ than I am with the idea that there really is a unicorn.”
I thought of how many people go to their graves unforgiven and unforgiving. I thought of how many people have had siblings or friends or children or lovers disappear from their lives before precious words of clemency or absolution could be passed along. How do the survivors of terminated relationships ever endure the pain of unfinished business? From that place of meditation, I found the answer-you can finish the business yourself, from within yourself. It’s not only possible, it’s essential.
~ Elizabeth Gilbert ~
While I “get” the idea that people don’t want to go to their graves not having done something or having done something to redeem themselves with respect to something they did, I…don’t really get it. If the end is, as I think it is, the termination of both physical life and consciousness in any and all forms, it doesn’t matter whether one has absolved themselves of the guilt and the pain. The end comes, regardless. And there are no subsequent “consequences to the actions or inactions in one’s life. When it’s over, it’s over. Except for those left behind. The magnitude of their grief and their regrets and their desire for absolution is beyond measure. The exponential expansion of negative emotions knows no boundaries. In one sense, one can view death as a powerful, life-affirming context within which we live our lives. Death keeps us on our toes. And it thrashes our state of mind repeatedly, shredding our emotional lives into tatters, pieces of which blow away in the slightest emotional storm.
I will walk a little now.