Cultivating Forgiveness

I spent the afternoon emptying one closet and found photographs of bygone years - going back 20, 30, and even 40 years - pictures of high school, college, early marriage, and of my son's first years. I sort through these things, even though it is a Saturday, and a beautiful, breezy one at that. I would love to go to the river, but I rarely do on weekends. It is such a different place energetically. So instead, I go for a walk, take in the emerging colors on maple, poplar, and oak trees, and simply reminisce...

Recently I read the book, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully, by Sr. Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, and prolific author, whose writings I have always enjoyed.

In a section of the book entitled "Forgiveness," she retells this story by Alfred Lord Tennyson:

"Two aged men, that had been foes for life,
Met by a grave, and wept -
and in those tears
They washed away the memory of their strife:
Then wept again the loss of all those years."

Perhaps this is something that most of us can relate to. I know I can. We all carry within our hearts regrets of some sort. Chittister has this to offer on the subject:

"It is often not so much what we have done or what has been done to us, but what we have done because of it that is the greatest grief...

Only forgiveness can stem [deep] pain in us...This kind of pain, held to the breast all these years, licked and nurtured, fed by time and polished by the ages, can be healed only by the wounded, not the offender, because it is the wounded who is maintaining it.

The hardness is in my heart now. It is far and beyond the hard-heartedness of the one who plunged the knife. It is mine. I own it. I fostered it. And I am suffering from it more than the person I hold responsible for the hurt...

Because I realize that the distance this has put between me and someone I loved has been much more damaging to my soul that the offense could possibly have been...

Only forgiveness is the therapy of old age that wipes the slate clean, that heals as it embraces...

Only we can free ourselves from the burden of bitterness old anger brings with it still... the measure of the Divine in us...And it is our forgiveness of others that gains for us the right to forgive ourselves for being less than we always wanted to be..."

Go out and forgive someone now - forgive yourself, for:

"Life is now. Only now...
Behind every moment the spirit of life,
the God of life waits."

After all, as Chittister wisely notes:

"It is the hands we go on holding
in our hearts at the end
that define the kind of life
we have led."


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