Is forgiveness really divine?

Vicki Laveau-Harvie was asked at her book launch if she had forgiven her mother, the answer might surprise you

Memoir and Forgiveness

At the launch of The Erratics, Caroline Baum, who was interviewing me, asked a perceptive question. She asked me if ‘forgiveness’ was a word I would use when referring to my present view of my relationship with my mother.

This was a good question, because we have all heard the word a lot – forgiveness is a Christian virtue, and is sometimes put forth in popular thought as a necessary step, something we must attain to free ourselves of the psychological trauma of past harm.

I find the word difficult and slippery: for me it seems coated with overtones of rising above and turning a different cheek, and with a notion that forgiveness is granted to someone who set out to do you harm. Even as a child, I didn’t believe my mother was out to get me, in particular. I somehow always knew that she was unable to be other than she was, and that her treatment of me was, in a strange way, not personal.

Here is how I grappled with my own story, and why ‘forgiveness’ is for me, (and this is my take on it – I would not wish to suggest how others should view this), a concept void of meaning.

As a young adult, I struggled to feel the simple affection a daughter usually feels for a mother, until the day I was asked this question: why would you feel an uncomplicated attachment to someone who did you so much harm? It would be in some sense a denial of self. I began to realise that what I was trying to define for myself was a position of detachment, not one of love or forgiveness.

I wanted to be able to say: here is how I remember my childhood and here is what was visited upon me before I had the means to understand or to react effectively. I am an adult now with the internal resources of a grown-up – I will understand all I can, I will take stock of what is shackling me to the past, and I will find a way to unlock those shackles.

I think this is what we all need to do, as responsible adults, partners, parents, and citizens. We’ve all been part of something that didn’t really go our way as children; we all need to put it down and walk on. Finding how to do this is, in my opinion, the key to living a whole and satisfying life. There are myriad ways to get to there: climb a mountain, work for a noble cause, get some therapy, write a letter you’ll never send to the person, or people, who wronged you.

Who we were as children is part of who we are as adults, but it is not all we are, or a spell cast upon us that we cannot escape. I am happy to be able to say: this happened to me, but so did many other things, good, life-changing things. I am the sum of it all. We are all the sum of it all.

Families – such fertile ground, one would hope, for love and fulfilment, but also for the hurt and misunderstanding that cling like the spider web you walk through in the garden at night. Oscar Wilde had something to say about it, in Act 2 of A Woman of No Importance, and he used the word ‘forgive’: ‘Children begin by loving their parents; after a time they judge them; rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.’

 

Photo by Geetanjal Khanna on Unsplash

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