What is the matter with us, us human beings? Why do we not practice forgiveness, teach forgiveness, give forgiveness, accept forgiveness, ask for forgiveness on a daily basis? Gabby Bernstein calls it “the F word,” I assume to give it a little flavor. And I think, like lawyer-ing or doctor-ing, the only way to truly express forgiveness, in both receiving and giving it is to, indeed, practice. Forgiveness is an art that only becomes better mastered through consistent use. Unlike riding a bike, it is something that will drain out of a person without proper use.
This thought is brought on by one of the boys who sits in a classroom next to mine everyday. Last week, he passed through my classroom, stopped near my desk, and (very obviously) purposely sneezed onto the floor in front of himself. I listened as a glob of liquid hit the floor with a “plop.” He walked away. I thought nothing of it, he’s a troubled kid who’s always looking for attention, however negative.
But then I realized that by letting him go without saying anything, I was allowing him to get away with something that he would never do in front of another teacher. I hate being treated differently because I’m white (I know, I know). So, I marched into his classroom and instructed him to come “clean it up”. His teacher, already fed up with him for the day, asked what happened and then took him to the head mistress. Disgusted, she clamped down on the boy’s collar so hard that it was pulling his shirt to his neck, choking him. She dragged him over to my desk, dangling him a few feet away from me, demanding that he apologize. He hung his head low, refusing to look up. He just make choking noises in response to the tightening grip on the back of his shirt. “Look up and apologize!” No response. “Look up!” No response.
Helpless in the snowballing situation, I quietly said, “just apologize, Pal.” He didn’t, so the headmistress began to lash his bare legs with the rod she had in her hand on reserve. He began to cry, sob. He started to apologize, but it was muffled, insincere between his being choked and his weeping. He was lashed several more times, never straightened up to the point where he was speaking clearly and looking me in the eye.
As a side note, I’m afraid I’m becoming numb to corporal punishment because I felt little remorse for the boy who spit his germs on the floor and then refused to apologize. But that’s just my point. No apology. No sincerity, not even a “sorry” to accompany the choking and lashing. So, here it is: one resounding WHAT THE HECK?!
Why is “sorry” so hard? Why do we, as human beings, as ten-year-olds, as grown a$$ adults, have such a problem with sorry? Why can’t we admit we are wrong?
My understanding is in the root of it. We’re afraid of forgiveness, we’re afraid of what comes next, after we let go. Will we be less of a person? Are we leaving part of ourselves behind?
Fear. That’s what’s at the root of it all. Fear. At the orphanage, on any given afternoon, the boys have the run of the place. The scene is almost always the same. Boys, of all age ranges are running around the field or driveway, or milling about under the pavilion. Some boys are quieter than others. Some chase each other, some play cricket with makeshift bats and balls, others just sit or join in on the ensuing chaos. In this ever-constant scene, there is no forgiveness. Just madness. Endless, endless roughhousing. No time for words, but ample time for the trifecta—hitting, kicking, yelling.
So, with this one particular student in mind, to serve mainly as an example, I ask again, why is sorry so hard? On one side of sorry lies a world of fear, of shame, of admitting we’ve done wrong, it appears to be a wasteland; we can’t see the oasis in the distance, beyond the smokescreen. On the other side of sorry, the side where we don’t take ownership for our words, our actions, our lives, lays the plain, beige existence of our pride. After all, pride is the only thing we get to keep when we don’t own up to what we’ve done, to who we truly are. And really, even pride is only temporary.
Guyanese half-orphans who have experienced abandonment and; therefore, have to live out their childhoods as simply members of a herd, are no different than full-grown American men and women when it comes to forgiveness. We, as humans, find forgiveness hard. We’re taught this early on in life. But, perhaps, we can ask ourselves a little more often than not, “would I rather be right or would I rather be kind?” In the end (duh), kind is right.
I suppose, on the surface we see weakness in “sorry,” we see that we’re giving up our right-ness, we need to surrender a piece of ourselves. And that’s scary. HOLY COW IS IT SCARY! But that’s part of forgiveness, that’s the step toward magic. So yes, when we forgive, when we practice “the F word,” we leave a piece of ourselves behind. But it’s not ordinary piece of self. It’s fear. Just fear. But FEAR nonetheless. It’s the burden of a shell. Take a hermit crab for example. It’s shell is it’s home, but it’s shell is fear, weighing it down, so it’s got to move on. It’s gotta slip out of the heavy thing that’s been weighing it down, that’s become home, bit it’s only a facade of safety. There is freedom without, there is love, waiting in the wings, prepared to become a driving force, the driving force in your life.
Yes, in forgiveness, you leave a piece of yourself behind—fear—that clunky, heavy, rotten piece of yourself that was never really a part of you anyway.
When we forgive, when we find strength in sorry, when we choose love over fear, we start the process of moving forward, of reaching the next level of being, a place where happiness is that much more attainable. So, whether you’ve just been smacked by a wooden board, or you’re fired up about your nagging boss, or you’ve just been called a fag, or you’re caught up in the gossip of work—forgive. Forgive like crazy. Forgive yourself. Find the strength in sorry. Choose love over fear. Drop your pride like the weight that it is and head for the hidden oasis behind the apparent chaos.
One of my favorite quotes: