Over the past month, or probably two if you count the time leading up to meeting with Joseph, I’ve had people say how much they admire me because what I’ve chosen to do. Three distinct feelings come over me when I hear these words.
First, is it really something to admire? Saving a life is admirable. Fighting for our country is, too. Working tirelessly to help those who need it the most in this world is also on that list. Giving one’s life over in pursuit of a better world is worth admiring. Those things, to me, garner admiration.
Second, I feel completely awkward when those words are used in conjunction with me. Many of the choices I have made in my past are not to be admired. They came from a broken place within myself. They hurt other people, both on purpose, and inadvertently. I have failed those closest to me. I feel like a fraud when someone says I am “to be admired” for the choice of forgiveness. I’m certain I do not deserve any words of praise when you take my life as a whole. Therefore, when I receive them I think: you don’t really know me.
Third, forgiveness should not be something that is admired in this life. It should be so common that it doesn’t stand out to others. I’ve heard so many people say: I’m not sure if I could do it if it was me. I truly wish that wasn’t the case. Can you imagine what the world would be if forgiveness happened more often? Or how much happier individual lives could be if forgiveness is what we based our actions around? Astounding.
I want to take a few moments and talk about what forgiveness means to me.
In forgiving Joseph I have not come to believe that what happened is acceptable. I do not condone my daughter’s death. I am most definitely not alright with her dying on the highway in a crash caused by another’s mistaken choices. Those things will never happen in my mind.
Quite often I have said that I struggled with the concept of forgiveness. For decades, I could not separate forgiveness with condonement. In some cases, today, those two are inexplicably intertwined . . . maybe forever. In discussing this with others I have come to the conclusion that forgiveness, hinges often, on intent.
I was told, sometime during the past twelve years, that my daughter dying in the crash caused by another was an “intentionless crime”. I did not care. I was angry. At times, people would say that “he didn’t mean for it to happen” and I would snap back at them and say “she isn’t less fucking dead”. His intention mattered little to me because the outcome wasn’t acceptable. She was gone, forever, whether he meant for it to happen or not. I remember thinking at one point, that if she could come back because her brutal death was unintended, then I’d care about his intent.
Then I met a mother who lost her daughter in a very intended violent attack. The killer had tried to end his sister’s life in prior incidents no one knew about. Her child was preyed upon and finally caught. Suddenly, the idea of intent shined a new light on my situation. Becca wasn’t hated. Nor was she hunted. She wasn’t looked at as deserving to die. Her death was an unpremeditated act that resulted in a few extremely poor choices and very odd timing in the universe. When Joseph saw her face . . . he didn’t choose to end her life. Yes, his actions led to this ultimate finish but he wasn’t heading toward her death with intent.
This really does make a world of difference concerning forgiveness. But should it?
A decade passed before I was ready to entertain the thought, seriously, of forgiving the person who took Becca’s life. I had to let go of the anger I held in the unfairness of it all. And, as I said, meeting someone whose child was taken with premeditation allowed me to consider Joseph in a different way. I could see her pain in knowing that someone thought her daughter deserved to die. I heard her talk of never forgiving him. And, I completely understand her position. As completely as someone can who’s child wasn’t murdered.
Would I be able to forgive Joseph if his intent had been to hurt Becca? I don’t know. I doubt it. Coming to the conclusion that forgiveness may not have been an option if he’d intentionally hurt her was enlightening to me. Somehow, forgiving him became easier. Then, an event happened very close to me that solidified my decision to extend forgiveness. Joseph was no longer defined by this one happening. . . he was a complete person.
It was easier to forgive when all of these things fell into place. When the knowledge of what intent can mean finally settled in my heart I was ready. Concerning forgiveness, easy forgiveness doesn’t really warrant admiration. The hard forgiveness, the deliberate wrong against us, is more difficult to come to terms with. My uncle molesting me for years. I’m not sure I’ve forgiven him completely. My father, who chose me to be physically violent with, hasn’t gotten my forgiveness yet. Those are just two examples of mercy I am not ready to extend because of the knowing intent of the individuals.
Yet, I should act with grace in both of these instances. I know this in my head. After feeling the weight lifted from my soul upon forgiving Joseph I understand the freedom it can give the forgiver. I’ve seen the peace it can bring to the forgiven. Maybe I don’t want my uncle or my father to feel that peace. I’m not sure. I will probably spend years wrestling with this aspect of my life.
Which brings me right back to the beginning of this blog. I don’t deserve words of praise or admiration because I have chosen to forgive Joseph. Doing so was not a difficult choice when the time was right. I truly hope, that someday, I’ll be strong enough . . . wise enough . . . to forgive those things done to me that were deliberate.
Imagine how my life would change. How the world would change. Hurt people hurt people. Healed people heal people. Each a drop in it’s own pond that sends out incredibly different outcomes.
Saturday afternoon, Joseph and I sat at a table in a small coffee shop, having conversation about our shared history. At our first meeting he’d said to me that he had some situations in his own past that he needed to rethink concerning forgiveness. In our second meeting I asked him to explain this to me. As he did I realized that I had something to learn about forgiveness myself. The pardon one can find for the willful action against us.
I realize I have the opportunity to learn from him.
I am grateful for this chance.