It seems to me that there is not enough forgiveness in our world and I don't imagine for one moment that I can do much to change that. What I can do is to live by the best set of personal values that I can.
We all make mistakes and we all make judgement errors that we only realise were errors in hindsight, that is the nature of us as beings. What would be marvellous, though, would be that we learn from our mistakes and errors in judgement and not repeat the actions, words or inactions again. But all too often we don't and we continue to make the same old mistakes again and again.
During the 1980s, when my children were small, the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland were still rumbling along. I'd grown up being careful to note and report unattended packages and was aware of bombings in a not too distant part of our world and been shocked and even frightened by bombings in London and in my home town of Bristol (in 1974), not too far from my school. I didn't really understand the reasons behind the troubles as a child, and to be honest I am not sure I entirely understand them now. I certainly don't understand how violence is supposed to bring about a desired change. However, this blog post is not to discuss or explore political issues.
As so often is the case, it was the actions of a single person that had such a profound effect on me at a time that I was really starting to get to know myself as a person. Following the Remembrance Day bombing at Enniskillen in 1987, Gordon Wilson, the father of one woman (Marie) that was killed in the bombing said that he bore no grudge, that he held them no ill-will. Here's the recording of an interview with him the day after the bombing (from a BBC broadcast).
I remember being deeply moved by his words and so surprised that someone who had just lost their child could be so forgiving and knew that I couldn't be in the same situation. But it got me thinking.
It was following this period that I started to think about what forgiveness meant to me. It doesn't mean giving someone permission to continue to hurt, abuse or take advantage of you, but it does mean not carrying around the weight of anger, hurt, or feelings of revenge or ill-will. Let's face it, usually somebody that I haven't forgiven doesn't know that I don't forgive them, it has no impact on their daily lives but it does on mine. I am walking around with negative feelings, being weighed down, made tense or dwelling on something that I have no control over. Unless I let those feelings go and forgive the action, words or whatever it is that has provoked those emotions in me in the first place, the only person being hurt is me. The understanding of this has given me the option to make positive decisions, putting it into practice in my daily life is much harder, but something that I do try to choose to do as often as possible.
Nowadays I give people the benefit of the doubt about three or four times and forgive their actions or words and if their behaviour towards me doesn't change then I choose to not let them hurt or abuse me any more. If this means cutting them out of my life because that is the only way to protect myself from their continued unacceptable behaviour, then that is what I do. I don't expect to change the way other people behave, of course I have no control over that, but I do have a choice about the way that I react to their behaviour.
This means that over the years I have a developed a network of friends who share similar values to me. This doesn't mean that we see eye to eye about everything or that we necessarily like similar things, but it does mean that, on the most part, we share the same code of behaviour and values. I appreciate that my way isn't necessarily the 'right way', after all, we each make our own decisions about what is right or not.
So here's the rub... what do I do when somebody who I have opted not to spend time with any more (because I felt hurt and abused by their behaviour 'back then') gets back in touch and wants to make contact with me again?
This has happened recently. This person had been a close friend for twenty years, we'd had heated discussions, been cross with each other and all the other emotions that close friends share, but we had been really good friends, speaking almost daily on the phone and seeing each other often. Then a series of words and actions left me feeling vulnerable and hurt and I chose to end the friendship rather than leave me open to what I felt was abusive behaviour.
Sadly at the time I didn't feel strong enough or able to explain my reasoning to her and just stopped communicating with her. I do regret not explaining it to her and wish that I had felt able to tell her why I had chosen that course of action, but I didn't and it's probably too late to try to discuss it with her now and I don't really want to drag up old feelings of being let down. We haven't communicated for about ten years.
Anyway, recently I received a 'friend' request from her on Facebook which I ignored as I wasn't sure how I felt about letting her back into my life, albeit just my online life. Then I noticed that she had asked a mutual friend on Facebook whether they had heard from me recently and our mutual friend said that she had indeed and that I now write this blog. So I get the feeling that my old friend is genuinely interested in rebuilding some links with me.
It's been ten years, I'm in a different situation, different relationship, different headspace, perhaps I should accept that she is making the effort to reach out and get in touch again. Or perhaps I should remind myself that whilst I try to be forgiving, I also need to protect myself from the behaviour of those who have repeatedly hurt me.
I certainly have never felt any ill-will towards her and forgave the behaviour that I felt was unacceptable a very long time ago (after all I understood the cause of the behaviour at the time). I simply chose to not have what I felt had become an unhealthy friendship with her.
I am still undecided about how to respond to the recent friend request. In this situation what would you do?