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PEACE: The Power Of Forgiveness

“To err is human. To forgive, Divine.” ~Alexander Pope

Everyone, it seems, has a moving story about forgiveness in his or her life. It doesn’t seem to matter if the story is about giving it, receiving it, denying it or being denied it. Forgiveness is powerful no matter which way the story goes.

When I was eleven years old, I experienced my first kiss.  Shawn was a very handsome boy from school. The setting was perfect. We were perched on a rock in the middle of a slow moving river. I can still remember his lips touching mine. It was intense and wonderful. He kissed me again behind a tree at the top of the hill before we parted and we each went home. That second kiss was equally wonderful as the first. What happened next still puzzles me:

Why did I go to school the next day and tell everyone that Shawn was a rapist? As I look back, I have no idea what was driving this behavior. Was it a sense of guilt and/or shame that I had allowed a boy to touch me in some sexual way? But why not keep it a secret shame instead of tarnishing Dan’s reputation? I asked myself again and again, “Why did I do that to him?” I kept it in the back of my mind for thirty years. Finally, on our twenty-fifth high school reunion I came prepared to find Shawn and make a long overdue apology.

On the night of the reunion, I asked another classmate if Shawn was there and he pointed him out in the crowd. He was still the best looking man in the room. As I studied his calm demeanor, I was suddenly overcome with anxiety. My stomach did a nauseating flip-flop.  I wondered if he would even remember me. It felt very risky to approach him, someone I had not talked to in thirty years, and simply launch into an apology. I had to force my feet to walk the last few inches to where he was standing, dreading every step. This apology, I was sure, was going to be most humiliating. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to say, only hoping to finally unburden myself by righting this wrong done to him many years before.

When I reached him I stammered, “Hi, Shawn. You probably don’t remember me.” He looked straight at me. There was a cool energy in his eyes and only a flicker of a smile on his lips.

“Oh, yeah. I remember you all right.”

I thought to myself, “Oh dear, this is not going to go well.” I could feel my palms beginning to sweat and my face getting hot and flushed. I wanted to run. My feet were lead and I couldn’t. My lips moved. “Shawn, I ’m here to offer you an apology that I have owed you for the past thirty years.”

His expression changed to a confused grin. “An apology? Whatever for?”

“I did something to you that I deeply regret. I have felt bad about it for a long time and I am so sorry.”

“Mary Anne, what did you do?”

His words shocked me. “You mean you don’t remember?”

“Remember what? You have to know MA, I did so many drugs during high school, I actually have no memory before the age of 18. That’s one of the reasons I became a drug and alcohol counselor, to help other kids not turn out like me with brain fry. So what happened? Now I am really curious!”

“Oh my God, Shawn, I can’t believe this! I’ve been torturing myself about this thing I did to you for over thirty years and you don’t even remember it! That would actually be pretty funny, if it didn’t feel so tragic.”

I took a deep breath and decided to finally just put it all out in the open. “Okay, here’s what happened. You kissed me by the river running behind the house at the end of our road and then again up behind the tree near the sidewalk. When I got to school the next day, I told everyone you were a rapist.”

His face charged with uproarious laughter. He was laughing so hard he nearly choked on his soda. “And you have been carrying around all this guilt for thirty years?” he managed to get out through the laughing.

“Well, yeah. I thought you hated me. I wondered what was wrong with me that I could do such an awful thing to you, when all you did was kiss me. Yeah. Thirty years of guilt.” The release suddenly turned on me, and I couldn’t stop the tears that had welled up.

“Wow,” he said softly.  “This has obviously really been hard for you.”

“No shit, Sherlock.” I tried to calm myself by fumbling for a Kleenex in my purse.

“Well, I really have only one question.” His face was serious again.

“What is it?” I asked, anticipating in complete dread. I was up to my ears in embarrassment already.

“Was it good?”

“Was what good?”

“The kiss. Was it good?

I paused. Was I being forgiven or being made fun of? I looked in his face. Nothing but sincerity: He really wanted to know. “Yeah. It was good.” I said sighing and the memory of sitting on that big rock, with the sound of the rushing river, the smells of the eucalyptus trees and the gentle, passionate kiss all came back in a flash. “Amazing, in fact. Yeah, I would have to admit in all honesty it was actually great.”

“Well, I’m really, really sad I don’t remember it, then. Especially since that kiss was with as beautiful a woman as you.”

“Thanks. But I really have to ask you, do you really forgive me? I assumed you have hated my guts all this time. ”

“Actually, this conversation fills in a really important missing piece of my childhood for me.  I’m sure glad to have that memory back. ”

“Wow. I feel so much lighter! Thanks!”

His hand touched mine. “Thank you….” And then he leaned down and kissed me again right in the middle of the high school reunion. Thirty years later, it was every bit as good as the first time.

This story is obviously about the sweetness of forgiveness. But, is forgiveness really essential to a peaceful and full life?

Some people believe that there are things that others have done which are so horrible that they are unforgivable. However, the toxic effect of endlessly resenting another person and their negative actions is like swallowing poison yourself and wishing that other person would die. Not too terribly productive for either side.

I imagine that most people would say that given time and experience, there are things they would have done quite differently if they had them to do over again. We’ve all been there. But every hurtful thing done or said in our lives is an opportunity for the journey toward self-understanding and clarity of finding forgiveness—even if the only person who we forgive is ourselves. Most importantly, forgiveness of oneself and others provides a sense of closure: We can’t change the past, but we can learn to let it go.

However, when we go to someone and ask to be forgiven, we may not get what we wanted or hoped for.  That person we harmed may not be able or willing to honor our request for forgiveness in that moment, if ever. Our request can open up a painful wound that the other person would just as soon leave alone or ignore. They are under no obligation whatsoever to accept our apology or honor our request for forgiveness. Being denied forgiveness after all the courage it takes to ask for it can be really painful. If that happens, then what do we do?

We are only responsible for opening this path, not coaxing the other person down it. When we take full responsibility for the fact that our actions have caused harm to another, we are freeing ourselves, regardless of how the other person reacts. In our willingness to forgive rests one of the most powerful potentials we human beings have, the ability to gracefully receive closure and truly move on in our lives.

Over the years, I have tried to initiate conversations with each person I have wronged or who have wronged me in order to clear the air. Some conversations have turned out to be more productive than others, as the capacity to forgive and be forgiven is different for each of us. However it turns out, it is always a relief to know that I have made the effort to clean up my side of the street. It is true that I cannot change another human being, but I can change myself.

Forgiveness is a two-way street, and we take turns giving and receiving its gift throughout our life’s relationships. I am grateful for those who have stepped up to forgive me for my failings or for wrongs I have done to them. And it has been a huge blessing to see the looks on the faces and sense the palpable relief in the people who have come to me for forgiveness. For those unresolved moments and people needing my forgiveness or my needing theirs, I hope for the grace to see another opening for healing.

In the meantime, I shall remember that like charity, forgiveness starts at home.

From Me to You:

Try this. Look in the mirror and say “I forgive you.” to your reflection. Even if you don’t believe it now, someday you will.

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    • Dave Loomis
    • October 15, 2011

    Thank you MA for your beautiful words, thoughts, and feelings! Sharing your humanity helps us all be better people.

  1. Dave- Thanks for your lovely comment, It has always been my belief that by connecting with each other in a truly authentic way, we will all see how much more we have in common that all the ways we thought that we were so different. Our humanity is inextricably bound up with each other. Whats a favorite moment in your life where your humanity or authenticity showed up?

  2. Thanks for the share! Very useful info!

  3. I was really happy to see you at our High School reunion. You asked me to post my thoughts on forgiveness that I shared with you that night…. In a nutshell, there are two parts of forgiveness, the first is to forgive another person for transgressing against you. The second part is to forgive yourself for allowing others to transgress against you. When you don’t address the second part, there is still some negativity to be cleared out, which is why one sometimes does not feel better after forgiving another person. We can sometimes be our own worst enemies rather than best friends.

  4. @ Jasmine I really appreciate your wisdom on this subject of Forgiveness. Forgiving ourselves seems to be more difficult than forgiving others at times. It sure does feel good to get ALL the negativity cleared out doesn’t it? Thanks again Jasmine for contributing your thoughts and observations and your personal experience to this ongoing conversation on Forgiveness. And it was great to see you at our High School Reunion too. We have both come a long way since High School?! -MA

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  8. @Used Cars in Dubuque IA Thanks so much for your feedback! I will go back and check for spelling errors. Sometimes I just get so excited about what I am writing about my fingers fly over the keys. But no excuse to make a spelling error! So please….
    What one spelling error particularly bothered you?

  9. @Iowa Subaru Dealers Thanks so much for your encouragement. And for joining in the conversation here. I hope you will write again and stay in touch. I see you read the blog on Forgiveness. Was there something in particular that caught your attention? Did you have a chance to listen to the audio version of that chapter I recorded as a gift to my readers? And yes don’t worry I plan to continue writing and sharing and connecting with people. I will also have my book published and up on Amazon in mid December so I hope you will have a chance to read it and if you enjoy it, please recommend it to friends. My hope is to take all that I am and all that I have and use it in service to a purpose greater than myself. Thanks for your affirming and encouraging message! I really appreciate it!

  10. @DreesNishihara08 Glad your cousin suggested you stop by and you are most welcome! BTW did you also have a chance to hear me read the chapter on Forgiveness? It’s a gift to my readers and since it is the one you liked so much, I thought you might enjoy hearing it read out loud! I am sorry to hear that you are feeling troubled by this issue and feel free to write again and open the conversation so others can benefit from what you are learning and challenged by. I will try to answer as well as I can to whatever is on your mind. This is an open forum so feel free to share whatever you are most comfortable with sharing.

  11. Thank you for every other great article. Where else could anybody get that kind of information in such a perfect means of writing? I have a presentation subsequent week, and I am at the search for such information.

  12. @Karen I am delighted that you are enjoying my ideas and I’m happy to help you in any way I can. Since you are doing presentations, have you been to my business site, My Real Voice.com? There is lots of useful information for presentations there. Also I just posted a new blog called INSPIRATION. I hope you enjoy it!

  13. @Treadmill Reviews- Thanks so much! I hope you will return to find other information that is useful to you! My intention is to serve to inspire others to have hope that they can overcome any obstacle. Thanks for stopping by. Sorry, or should I say please forgive me that it took me so long to respond to your nice comment!

  14. @Dave – you are so welcome! Perhaps you will like my latest: WISH- It’s More Than Rubbing A Lamp!

  15. First off I would like to say terrific blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you do not mind.

    I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your thoughts before writing.
    I’ve had a hard time clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out there.
    I do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first
    10 to 15 minutes are generally lost simply just trying
    to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or hints?
    Kudos!

  16. Hi Sheryl,

    I have meditated on your questions and find my answers lead me down different roads, different “rabbit holes” if you will, the kind Alice falls into in Alice In Wonderland. Lol.

    Before I get to your question more in detail, I want to express my gratitude for your kind words about this blog. In 2018, at the time of the completion of my latest book, “Survive To Thrive 11 Keys To Unlock Your Thriving Life” I felt that I had said/written everything I had to say for the time being. Since then, I have turned my energy more toward travel and creating art rather than writing. So it is nice to return to this blog once again, and have a conversation with you, a reader.

    The Writers Dilemma

    You raise very interesting questions about both writing, formulating and generating ideas, and getting your unique perspective out into the world, and also how to clear one’s mind in order to focus and begin. These are all great questions and you are already wise in asking them of yourself. We all struggle with them. We can all learn from the questions you raise.

    The Challenges for Artists Of Self Creation

    Any “artist working with the energy of creation” whether they are writers, artists, musicians or others, will tell you that any solo creation, created out of one’s imagination, drive into form by passion/compulsion, is a challenging road to travel. While you might later in time collaborate with others in the fleshing out of an idea written down, or written piece of music, or dance ensemble piece, the original germinating moment of the eventual creation happens inside your own mind.

    The leap of faith any and all of us “artists of self creation” take is a brave “empty handed leap into the void.” This leap is taken by trust that “there must be a reason” for the idea to occur to us in the first place, and to trust fully that we are the unique “conduit of creative energy coming into form.”

    On the other hand, many poets struggle with word puzzles for days, weeks, months, before the proverbial “light goes on” and they “see” the right combination of words and sounds. So diligently working on your writing, day after day at your craft of creation, whatever that is, even on days when it may appear “nothing is happening at all,” are important cogs in the wheels of creation, turning energy into form. When I was an actor in NYC, I remember my teacher, the famed Lee Strasberg, telling me “Show business is 99% business and 1% show. So get to work!” Lol.

    So the above is all to say, you are not alone!

    Follow The Energy

    My second response is if you already know that you enjoy writing, and also feel strongly motivated by particular ideas or concepts, feel “drawn to it” as it were, those are important signs to be aware of. All very good signs actually!

    My current art teacher advises me that each day I go to work on my painting, to “begin with the part of the painting where you are drawn to most. Then when you finish that area, wait to see if another area captivates your attention, and do that next. If nothing ‘speaks to you’ then stop and move on to another painting or on to another creative project, or just get outside in nature and take a walk.”

    I was told by another artist I admire that at the end of each day, she leaves a part of a project deliberately unfinished so she has a reason to get up the next morning and get to work.
    This “unfinished energy” is like a magnet, drawing her back into her work again. She says that she finds that if she “completes everything” at the end of the day, then the energy just kind of stops and she has nothing drawing her back to work again the next morning.

    I share these ideas with you because they are tricks other artists use and I have adopted myself.

    Blockades To Creation

    Looking at this question from the point of view of the “day to day world,” there are many ways in which blockades to creation appear to show up in our minds trying to defeat us before we even can get a single word out on the page or screen at all.

    Images in your mind such as various distractions and conflicts in the present time, and also distractions of regret of the past and fear of the future, not to mention those nagging little weasel voices in our heads of “I can’t do this.” “This is a dumb idea” “No one wants to hear what I think.” “Everything important has already been said before.” “I’m waisting my time.”

    All the phrases inside your head compete for your attention, so much so at times, that those first 15 minutes – or hours- or days- or an entire lifetime – can feel a bit like moment to moment torture, self flagellation at it’s finest.

    So to your question, “How to begin?”

    Whatever we resist persists, so the habit of “beating up on ourselves” for not getting anything done can become another habitual distraction which also keeps us from creating.

    Take A Walk Sometimes if I feel a lot of internal resistance to getting started, I stop and go out and take a walk. This tends to loosen up my stuck mental energy. I feel the energy of nature, which is always growing and recreating itself, and I try to tune myself to that beauty.

    2) Mind Movie Game

    If I am sitting at my desk and feel stuck, I play a game with myself and say, “Well yes, all those things are going on right now in my mind and I am going play a game with them.
    I close my eyes, and I place the distractions in my inner field of vision and watch them move down my inner movie screen of my mind, like a “credits roll” at the very end of a movie after the movie part ends, words or images coming into view from the top of my internal mental screen, and then going out of view at the bottom. I just let the credits roll as it were without getting attached to any one of them.

    Eventually, I imagine that “the mind movie” ends and the screen goes black, just like in a real movie theatre. Then I stay still, with my eyes still closed, imagining myself in the dark movie theatre before the lights come up. I simply sit still and stare at the imaginary black empty screen.

    I wait.

    Sometimes a new idea will pop up on the screen in a word or image, related to my writing or art. Sometimes not.

    Put simply. I just rest in what one might call “the place of limitless creative potential,” one might call the “womb of creation” before beginning to write, waiting for an idea or image to occur.

    3) Breathing Meditation

    It often helps to take just a few moments before beginning to write to close my eyes and just fully focus on my breathing. There are many breathing meditations to choose from but one is I breath four counts in, hold for four counts and then exhale for four counts.
    A few rounds of this and I feel more calm and focused.
    I open my eyes and stare at the blank paper or screen waiting for an impulse to begin.

    4) Doodling

    Sometimes I doodle with pencil on a page or rambling fingers on my keyboard to loosen up the creative energy. Even if the doodles look like nothing and appear to be random, energy is loosening up and less stuck and something tends to “show up” like a person standing at the creative door waiting there to be let in.

    I hope these ideas help you some.

    The most important thing of all is just to BEGIN. WRITE SOMETHING. ANYTHING. And let the creative flow lead you from there.

    If you have any other questions, please feel free to write again here on this blog.

    Again, thanks for writing such great questions!

    Warm regards,
    Mary Anne

  17. You really make it seem so easy along with your presentation however
    I find this topic to be really something which I think I’d never understand.
    It sort of feels too complicated and extremely broad for me.
    I am taking a look ahead on your subsequent post,
    I will attempt to get the grasp of it!

  18. Dear Maxine,
    Forgiveness is indeed a challenging practice! You are not alone there!I found that unpacking the concept and practice of forgiveness at first quite complicated, but it has become easier over time.

    I hope you can get the grasp of it from more reading here on this blog and also perhaps from reading my books, “Words To Thrive By Powerful Stories of Courage and Hope”, and my latest book, “Survive To Thrive 11 Keys To Unlock Your Thriving Life”! Both of those books are available online at Book DEpository (free delivery anywhere in the world!), Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other outlets. Both book have sections which deal with the subject of forgiveness, both of self and of others. Hope they help you!

    Warm regards,
    Mary Anne

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