Do you see the grief, anger, shock, bitterness, embarrassment, shame, and rage on these two former lovers' faces as clearly as I imagine? I stumbled upon this painting by Michael Parkes back in early 2002; at the time I was going through a very painful divorce and of course we were all still grieving the horrific tragedy of 9/11. To me this picture (called The Last Lion) perfectly captures how painful the process of loss and forgiveness can be.
Or rather, how painful the process of being unable to forgive is -- mostly because we feel that what has been lost is irreplaceable.
And sometimes it's true; the loss of what we hold dearest to our hearts -- especially when it comes to our loved ones -- can never be replaced. I simply do not believe that time heals all wounds; healing often demands much more of us than passively waiting for things to get better on their own.
Forgiveness doesn't just happen either.
But why should we forgive at all, in cases where the other person clearly acted to harm us? What about justice? An eye for an eye, and all that?
Certainly the traditional litigation model is anchored by the adversarial process and zealous representation of our clients' interests. But what if we are failing to recognize what our clients' best interests really are?
I am continually amazed that those saints and sages who appear to have suffered the greatest wounds in life (e.g., Jesus, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Anne Frank, the Dalai Lama), unanimously counsel us that the path to true healing is through forgiveness. Two of my favorite online resources for exploring the healing power of forgiveness are Radical Forgiveness, by Colin Tipping, and The Healing Codes, by doctors Alex Loyd and Ben Johnson. Their work has claimed almost miraculous success in healing everything from cancer to Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS), and many mediators and collaborative divorce professionals are now applying these same concepts to healing legal disputes with equally encouraging results.
The opening lines of an autobiographical novel I started reading this week explain the basic concept well:
It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured. I realised, somehow, through the screaming in my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them. It doesn't sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it's all you've got, that freedom is a universe of possibility. And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.
-- Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram
I am not yet far enough into the book to see which choice the protagonist makes, but am placing my bets on the latter.
What about you? Are you holding on to the need to be right and the need to get revenge, or are you finally ready to let go of old toxic resentments and allow your heart to heal? At the end of the day, as difficult as the process can sometimes feel, I believe forgiveness is really a gift to yourself above all else ...