“I don’t forgive people because I’m weak, I forgive them because I’m strong enough to know people make mistakes”MM
If anyone should know a thing or two about forgiveness, it is Mz Monroe. Over the course of her too short life she was treated to many shining examples of human behaviour at its very worst. Her mother, albeit handling her own mental health issues, abandoned her and her father, well he did a runner before she was even born. Growing up in a series of orphanages and foster homes, however non-Dickensian they may have been, damaged Monroe irreparably and left her with a lifelong pursuit of unconditional love, a pursuit that was to prove her undoing and contributed in no small way to her untimely death. Once she entered the shady world of show business, well the proverbial sh** hit the fan. A world where sex is cheap and Marilyn was like a football from one of those famous matches, played Christmas 1914, bounced and kicked in no-man’s land around, or in her case, every-man’s land, and then cast aside when a new day dawned. Her first hubbie, the American sports hero Joe DiMaggio beat her and then divorced her because she liked the way the wind wrapping around her legs as she stood over a subway grate made her feel. The egghead Miller was just as egotistical and as cruel, although he used words rather than his fists, and finally there was all those doctors and psychiatrists who kept pumping her with pills, entangling her in a vicious web she never escaped from.
Okay so hopefully we do not all have Marilyn’s unenviable litany of things to forgive, but we all, well me anyway, have things in our life over which the thorny subject of forgiveness looms. I’ll be honest, I struggle with the concept and although I know holding on to something isn’t wise, or healthy, it sure can be excruciatingly difficult to let go, to surrender something that has caused you great pain. This wrong that was done to you or against you can like cancerous tumor take root inside of you; it knows that outside of you it will die, so it fights with all its might to remain, festering and slowly, but very deliberately, killing you.
So what is forgiveness? A quick glance at a dictionary throws up synonyms, words such as pardon, absolution, mercy, tolerance, pity. Psychologists generally define it as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. By forgiving, although not forgetting, a person is freed from anger or resentment empowering them to both recognize the pain they have suffered yet not allowing it to define them or the life they lead. This then enables the person to heal and get on with their life. The not forgetting bit is very important as forgiveness is not about forgetting, condoning or excusing the offense, but about taking back and moving forward. It is about not ending up like Ms Havisham, but about taking those lemons and making lemonade, or looking for that long forgotten bottle of tequila, or maybe a Corona or a g&t- whatever floats your boat. Maybe you’d look for smoked salmon or just a mug of hot water. (Okay so now I’m making myself hungry.) The point is, the important thing is to do something with the lemons. Stopping all the clocks at 8:40 did little more than forever locking her into that moment, yet time marched ahead. Her life, just like her dress and her cake, rotted and wasted away before her eyes.
Most psychologists agree that healing can only occur if forgiveness is given. That those who forgive, move on whilst those who don’t, stay stuck like the clocks in Satis House. Research conducted after the September 11th attacks by two leading psychologists, Loren Toussaint and Jon Webb, shows that those who forgave the attackers had lower levels of depression, anger and fewer symptoms of PTSD than those who did not. They also stress that whilst forgiveness is essential for moving on, we don’t have to forget to forgive, that the old adage of forgive and forget is wrong. It is forgive, but do not forget.
However despite the many reasons for, and benefits of, forgiveness the fact remains that if wronged by someone it can be incredibly difficult to actually forgive. To say it and mean it. My struggle with offering absolution has, to be quite frank, not entirely successful and part of this is thanks to a niggling concern that by my proffer of pardon I was still not only the victim, I was also the weak one. The doormat – happy to be stood upon,to have dirty shoes wiped clean upon and all still with a smile on my face. Reading Monroe’s words has given me pause to stop and reevaluate my thinking. Perhaps I could offer forgiveness, but not as a sign of my weakness, but as a show of my strength. If I forgive I can move forward and therein lies the appeal. That is when I stop being the victim and become the victor. No, I will not forget and no I do not condone what was done, but unlike Ms Havisham neither will I remain stuck, wasting my life away in some crumbling old mansion,( more like average three bed semi-d to be honest, but crumbling mansion sounds far better) -bitter, vindictive and petty.