I remember his hollow eyes of pain.
We talked for about an hour as I tried to explain how forgiveness had given us freedom.
Then he said, “I can see that there is a difference between you and me and my loss isn’t even as severe as yours.”
When I asked him what the difference was he said that I believed in –“life thereafter” He didn't.
I nodded. It is the essence of forgiveness - that there is "life after loss.”
He shrugged. “I don’t have that kind of faith.”
I think that is when I realized that I couldn’t persuade anyone to forgive.
Forgiveness is a crazy idea. It’s counter-intuitive! It has the same senselessness as the idea that we combat small pox by inoculating ourselves with the virus that threatens to harm us in the first place. It is like the idea of chemo therapy.
In forgiveness we fight fear with fear. We give up the fear- based natural primal instincts to survive – fight, flight, freeze and frenzy – because we fear the on going irresponsible trauma they create.
It’s the hardest thing to witness a person in “fight mode.” Anger consumes them – “I have rights” they will announce to the world. “I am victim see me roar!” They will say, “I am defending my moral goodness,” again and again as they carelessly and viciously destroy what is around them and create more victims. Forgiveness means learning to subdue these fierce emotions so as not to victimize others.
It’s hard to watch others in flight mode – wanting to leave the danger behind and find a safe place. They are in such a panic to escape their fears they can’t identify the real threat - especially when the real threat remains inaccessible or even invisible. They choose to flee the trigger rather than the enemy. They will choose any trigger usually someone safe, someone in their proximity and someone who isn’t perfect, vilifying them - often their unsuspecting partner. family and friends. Good marriages are broken - good relationships are destroyed - because of the need to flee anything that triggers the memories of the pain.
Then there are those who succumb to the power of their pain and let it rule their live. Somehow, they make friends with their pain and make it work for them. They are the broken victim that no longer remain invested in life. They make shrines of their pain and hide in their pain. By withdrawing from life, they are immobilized and can no longer contribute to the greater good. They are consumers of pain. They choose co-dependency.
Finally there are those who are just confused by it all, caught in the complexity of their pain. They are in a panic and have no idea what do with it. They can’t turn off their minds. They resort to finding other ways to escape. There is no reasoning with them as they scale that impossible mountain just for the thrill of it all - just to lose themselves in the thrill of the moment. They become accustomed to risk and choose to live on the precipice – addicted to it. They choose addictions as a way to escape - anything to escape.
All of these can be good coping skills when used with studied thought and forgiveness, but if they remain survival driven they become fiercely dysfunctional - bordering on mental illnesses.
I have seen them all played out in the parents of murdered children and other heart breaks.
Forgiveness requires the faith and hope that there is a life thereafter. It requires that we avoid the survival mode - abandon the fight, flight, freeze and frenzy of trauma. It requires that we become more afraid of the reactive trauma than the heart break – and wait for the initial survival fear to subside…. until sanity returns.
I still find it remarkable. That both Cliff and I, decided on the alternative – and that it lasted all these years.
I attribute it to four forgiveness decisions we made that first year… which I hope to explore.
We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men and women are afraid of the light. Plato