I was listening to Mike Shinoda’s album, Post Traumatic, an (excellent, powerful) album written in the time following his bandmate’s suicide, and one song really stuck out for me. “Over Again” deals with the idea that saying goodbye isn’t something you do just once, but again and again each time you are confronted with your loss. Definitely true. After contemplating this for a time, it seemed to me that forgiveness works the same way.
When it comes to something big–something that has caused a great deal of strife–I’m not sure “forgive and forget” is really possible. Some things you just don’t forget. Some things might take years to work through. When you make the decision to forgive someone for something they’ve done, it isn’t a one-time, immediate erasure of all that pain. It’s a difficult process that takes time and effort. You may reach a point at which you feel better about the past and take a few steps forward, and the next day you might be reading or cooking or showering and it’ll hit you again.
How could that person have done that? How can you ever get over it? You’re so angry and hurt! And at this point you have to decide to forgive them all over again. You have to remember why you chose forgiveness the first time and evaluate whether that’s still the best option. You have to keep in mind your role in the incident if any of the blame is yours. You have to go through the process until you are calm again and can treat them normally. It wouldn’t be fair to confront someone again and again with their mistake when you’ve already decided to work past it, after all.
People seem to think of forgiveness as the end goal, but I think of forgiveness as the entire process–the decision to move forward and all the hard work that entails. Acceptance is a better term for the end goal, and forgiving (or not) is the path along which you choose to get there. It determines whether whatever relationship can continue after acceptance–whether reconciliation can occur.
Whether or not you can forgive someone for the pain they’ve caused, acceptance of what has happened will stop the cycle of those feelings of anger or sadness returning again and again. Acceptance is when the memory of the hurt comes suddenly back to you and you don’t experience that surge of unpleasant emotion; instead, you acknowledge that it happened, terrible as it was, and move along. And whether it takes weeks or years to finally reach that point, the most important part of acceptance is growing from the experience to make sure, whether together with that person or not, that whatever awful thing never happens again.
By the way, I recommend listening to the Post Traumatic album from start to finish to really experience the whole journey from despair to hope.