One of the great things about attending service at a Unitarian Universalist fellowship is how the services draw on so many religious traditions. Today was the Days of Awe service celebrating the ten days including and between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The focus was on remembering the year past, particularly those we have lost to death, forgiving ourselves and those around us for actions which may have brought pain, and mindfully applying ourselves to our intentions for this next year.
During the homily, our minister spoke about forgiveness.
“The line between forgiving and forgetting has always been a difficulty for me,” the minister said. I share this difficulty.
How is it possible to remember the wrongs done to me (or the wrongs I have committed) and still forgive?
Forgetting I’m good at. As long as I don’t think about the way I treated my best friend in middle school or the rather poor choices I made in college, I can feel like I’ve forgiven myself for them. But then something will come up and remind me of a stupid thing I’ve done and I’ll realize I’ve not forgiven myself after all.
Last night, my husband and I were watching The Office. At the end of the episode, Dwight and Michael sat in a graveyard butchering the lyrics to Don McLean’s “American Pie,” and I was reminded of a sleepover I had in high school with the girl who would become valedictorian of our high school class. This young woman was someone I admired and always felt somewhat inferior to (truth be told, I still feel inferior to her). She was first-chair clarinet, took AP everything and excelled, scored a 1600 on the SAT (the old one, not the new easier one they started giving in the mid-90’s), never said stupid things, and was amazing in Model UN. In addition, she dressed well and was always kind to everyone. I could not believe she was my friend, much less that she was sleeping over at my house.
We were singing along to my mom’s 45’s and having a great time. “American Pie” came up and at the part where he says, “I was a lonely teenage broncin’ buck, with a pink carnation and a pickup truck,” I sang, very loudly, “I was a lonely teenage drunkin’ f***…” My friend just looked at me quizzically. I could tell she was revising her opinion of me.
Now this was not the first time I’d mis-sung lyrics to a popular song, nor was it the last. It’s something of a habit of mine to hear and then sing back loudly the wrong lyrics to songs. But with this particular friend to whom I already felt inferior, my idiocy was mortifying.
Even now, when I think of this, I cringe. I fear that this is why she’s not responded to my suggestion that we get together for dinner now that we live near each other again (even though there are plenty of other very logical non–me-related reasons for her not responding).
The only way I have any peace around it is to block it out. I’m mostly okay with that, but that’s not forgiveness.
What would it feel like to be able to recall that gaffe and not feel all of the mortification that accompanied the event in the moment?
I recognize that this is a fairly silly example (“That’s not a painful memory,” my husband said, “that’s just a funny story.”), but if I can’t even forgive myself for something silly like this, how can I have any hope of forgiving myself or anyone else for more egregious errors?
If we don’t forget, aren’t we always on guard for the next hurt? If we’re always on guard, can that be consistent with forgiveness? And if we’re not on guard, how can we protect ourselves from being hurt (or hurting ourselves) in the future? Does forgiving necessarily mean accepting the possibility of future pain?
Is it possible to forgive without forgetting?
And for those curious about the ongoing evolution of my wardrobe, this is what I wore today:
I already had the skirt, the cardigan, and the stockings. All the rest is new. Thanks to my husband for taking my picture this morning. The mirror thing just isn’t working very well. (And the pile of stuff by my feet is a pair of jeans and a mei tai.)