Some thoughts about forgiveness

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What does it mean to forgive someone who has wronged you? How does it help you to do this?  Does forgiving another person mean you somehow condone their behavior?

Several weeks ago I published a letter I had received from my son. He was very angry about what he deemed to be another”hate-filled” email from me, an email which had been carefully written with the oversight of not one but two therapists. He demanded an apology from me for all the “terrible” things I had done to him when he was younger.

I know I was a terrible mother. Toxic. I own that. It is an awful realization to have to look something like that in the face and hold yourself accountable for it. I did that years ago and so giving him the apology he sought was not difficult. In fact, I realized that it was long overdue to him. So, I sat down and I wrote a very long (10 page) letter to him in which I addressed specific incidents for which I feel profoundly sorry and offered him a heartfelt apology for all of it. I put it in the mail and included a zip drive with a pdf version so he could access the different links I had included.

The Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, a day of atonement for Jews around the world

I am a Jew. I converted to Judaism about 40 years ago and it defines who I am and how I try to live my life. This past week it was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. It is the holiest day of the Jewish year and is considered the Shabbat of Shabbats. It is traditional on the eve of Yom Kippur to go to each person in your universe and say something like, “If I have offended you or caused you harm in the past year, I ask for your forgiveness.” This is something I have done for many years. Yom Kippur is my favourite Jewish holiday and when I tell other Jews this, I usually get a raised eyebrow. That’s probably because Yom Kippur entails a 25 hour fast -- no food or drink is allowed. Therefore, many Jews view is a sort of endurance test. But for me, I like the idea that I can be forgiven by God for all my transgressions in one fell swoop. We say a prayer called the Al Chet which is a communal recitation of all the sins that man (and woman) can commit → adultery, lust, greed, gossip, anger…. You get the idea. 

This year I did not extend my usual blanket apology to everyone I know

This year. however, I made a conscious decision not to apologize to the people in my sphere though. Why? I guess because I sort of feel like I am finished apologizing. My long letter to my son garnered no response whatsoever from him, so to me, it feels like for him  the exercise was less about receiving the apology from me but more about expressing his continuing hostility toward me.

Does that mean I won’t ever owe anyone an apology again?

I have spent the last ten years changing myself, my thought patterns, my behavior. I do my best every single day and I am thoughtful and mindful in the way I treat and interact with other people. I have lived a life of feeling unbelievably guilty and ashamed of myself and my behavior and I choose from here on out to not offer a “blanket apology” to anyone. Does that mean that I won’t ever do or say something that genuinely warrants an apology? No, I expect that I will because I am human, like everyone else. There will be times when I do or say something which deserves an apology but I will no longer give a “blanket” apology to every single person I know. Knowing when an apology is warranted and when it is not is an important distinction, I think.

No regrets about making this second decision

Do I regret going through this exercise with my son? Only insofar as it has not even been acknowledged by him. I did some awful things to him and my other children when they were young so I think it was necessary,. Has it changed anything between us/ No, not really. My other son said that there was a lot of information in the letter and he just needs time to digest it and that he will eventually respond. My view is that he has apparently been unable to accept it the apology but that doesn’t need it didn’t need to be extended to him. But will I be ready when he is finally able to respond to me? I sincerely hope so. There has been far too much hurt on both our parts. I am, however okay with it if he chooses to never respond because I feel that having crossed that bridge with him now allows me the opportunity to truly lay down that burden of guilt and remorse. I still feel enormously sad, though. I don’t think that feeling will leave me for a long time and that’s okay, as well.