Some folks subscribe to the notion that it is better to forgive and forget; some do not. The “do not’s” prefer to chew on that old tasteless bone until it breaks both their teeth and spirit. As far as I know, most, if not all, religious doctrines include teachings on the virtue of forgiveness.

That being said, to “forgive and forget” has been my philosophy and my sanctimonious side felt that I had lived up to these words — until recently, that is. Something came up that triggered an old feeling and POW! I felt like I was kicked in the solar plexus and began to suffer from a “heartbleed.”

Silly me. I really thought I was done with all that drama, but there it was like a B–movie playing in my mind. What was so disturbing is that I thought I had forgiven and, perhaps, on some level I did. But did I forget? Fat chance!
Most of us have heard this quote “To err is human; to forgive divine.” These words are found in an essay titled, “An Essay on Criticism” by 18-centurary English Poet Alexander Pope. Whoa! Hold on there, Mr. Pope, I mean no disrespect, but I have some questions: What in the word do your words really mean? What if one is not a member of the exclusive “divine” club. Do we ignore the past? What about justice? What about revenge? What about plain old heartbreak?

Many of us have painful memories that we carry with us like frayed pictures in a wallet. The only way to lose these memories or not let them wreak such havoc in our lives is to forgive and let them go. Notice I did not say forget. For sure, we cannot eradicate painful memories. However, we can forgive in spite of the living nature of the wound—sometimes by an act of sheer will. After we have truly forgiven, when someone or something triggers those painful memories, instead of crashing into our brains and boring a hole in our hearts, they will return as a gentle tap on the shoulder whispering, “I am here.”

In my book, forgetting is near impossible. I am always in awe of those special folks who have forgiven the unforgivable. But, realistically, how can they forget? Terrible things happen to the innocent: A child is murdered. She was raped. He lost his life savings in a Ponzi scheme. Her best friend ran off with her husband. Someone betrayed a sacred trust. A commercial airliner with 150 souls aboard is deliberately crashed into the French Alps by a mentally disturbed co-pilot. And the list goes on.

Some folks will benefit from being angry and unforgiving because if they don’t have their anger what do they have? It is difficult to let go of memories, no matter how unpleasant. Sometimes we clutch them because we are afraid to feel the pleasant feelings of today. We are vulnerable to past loss and rather than feeling exposed, we rage, dredge up the sludge of the past or invent a new drama to keep that anger alive. This seems pretty counterproductive.

Can we really flourish under the weight of carried resentment from the past? What does it cost us in terms of our sanity and well-being to hang on to blame and hurt? Obviously, we cannot take a flying leap over pain to forgiveness and beyond. It’s a process — and a painful one at that.

We need not be held hostage to our past; we deserve to move on. But with one caveat: In order to forgive someone and perhaps forget, we need to forgive ourselves. When we hold on to anger, our unconscious does not know where that feeling belongs.

We may lash out in response to a word said in jest; we interpret it as an insult -and, just like that, we’ve ruptured a good relationship. Here’s the kick in the head: That person whom we viciously attacked has done nothing grievous. Sound weird? Maybe so. However, if we have the courage to look deep within, we will realize the anger has been there all along just waiting to pounce on the nearest target.

Some folks, when hit with a life grenade, will blame God. Their actions are akin to what psychologists call “childhood regression.” We act out like little kids wearing poopy diapers who are raging against their unjust parent. Some will stop attending church or cease praying — and I get it.

I was so angry when my first husband died that I refused to sing in the choir. I would put on my choir robes, process down the aisle, however, I crossed my hands over my chest and stood mute while the rest of the choir sang the anthems — and you know where that got me. When my second husband died, I forgave myself for being human and finally grasped the futility in blaming God.

There is a delicate balance in the dance of “forgive and forget.” If we forget what hurt us in the past, we may be subject to repeat performances. Case in point: Why is it that some folks will leave an unhealthy relationship only to find themselves back in a relationship with the same person, with a different face? It happens all the time.

Life is a learning experience. Forgiveness happens after there is enough self-healing so that forgiving another does not compromise one’s self. But first off, we need to admit there is something to forgive. Some folks are “people pleasers” and may confuse forgiveness with “being good” but, in reality, this kind of forgiveness benefits no one.

Yet, we are taught to forgive and forget. Folks, what in the world does this add up to? Lots of questions, but not so many answers, I fear. Forgiveness is an act of self-love. Forgetting, well, that is another story. How can we forget the wrongs done to us? Why would we want too?

I offer you a compromise: We can strive to forget what hurt us in the past; but, never forget the lesson it taught us. The poet William Blake writes these powerful words: “Through all eternity I forgive you and you forgive me.” Notice he didn’t write anything about forgetting. I suppose its back to the drawing board!

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Iannelli Celia 2014

Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in ‘retirement’ — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.

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Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in 'retirement' — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.