A Parable on Forgiveness
“I will not forgive,” she said. “I will remember.”
“Forgive,” her Angel whispered. “Forgive, and you will make your own life easier.”
“Never.” She pursed her lips stubbornly. “This can never be forgiven. Ever.”
“Will you be seeking revenge?” the Angel asked with concern.
“No, I will not. I will be above revenge.”
“Are you seeking justice?”
“I don’t know which punishment would be just or fair enough.”
“Everyone has to pay for their decisions. Sooner or later, everyone has to. It’s unavoidable,” the Angels said softly.
“Yes, I know.”
“Then forgive! Take this load off your shoulders. You are now far from your offenders.”
“No. I can’t, and I don’t want to. There is no forgiveness for them.”
“Fine,” the Angel sighed. “Where do you intend to store your resentment?”
“Here, and here,” she touched her head and her heart.
“Please, be careful,” the Angel pleaded. “The poison of resentment is very dangerous. It can become a stone that will drag you to the bottom, or it can ignite the flames of fury that will burn everything in their path.”
“It is the stone of memory, and the fire of righteous fury,” she cut him off. “They are on my side.”
And the resentment dwelled where she said it would, in her head and in her heart.
She was young and healthy, she was building her life, living with passion, breathing in freedom. She got married, had children, made new friends. Of course, she would be upset with them every now and then, but would mostly forgive. Sometimes she would get angry or argumentative, and then she would be forgiven. This was life, and she was trying not to think of her own old resentment.
Many years had passed before she heard that loathsome word, forgiveness, again.
“My husband betrayed me. I am constantly arguing with my children. Money doesn’t like me. What am I to do?” she asked an elderly counselor.
He listened carefully, asked many questions, for some reason kept asking about her childhood. She would get upset, and turn the conversation to the present, but he kept returning her to childhood memories. She felt he was wandering in the corners of her memory, trying to find, to bring to the light that old pain, that old resentment. She didn’t want to, and therefore resisted. But he still saw, that sneaky counselor.
“You need to clear yourself,” he summed up. “You resentment has grown. It picked up later grievances, like a coral reef picks up polyps. This reef became an obstacle in the way of life force, it doesn’t let it flow freely. This is why you are having problems in your personal, and financial life. This reef has sharp edges, and they hurt your tender soul. Many emotions have taken their dwelling in the reef, and they poison your blood with their waste, attracting more and more residents that feed off that resentment.”
The woman nodded.
“I am feeling something like this. Sometimes I become very nervous, sometimes I am suffocated with depression, and sometimes I just want to kill everyone. I guess I do need to clear. But how?”
“Forgive that first offense that you are feeling resentful for. The foundation will fall apart, and the whole reef will crumble.”
“Never!” the woman slammed. “It’s righteous anger, it’s all true! I have a right to be angry, I have a right to be resentful!”
“Would you rather be right, or happy?” The counselor asked softly. But the woman didn’t answer, she just stormed out, taking her coral reef with her.
More years had passed. The woman was once again visiting a doctor, this time a physician. He was looking through the x-rays, lab reports, frowning and biting his lips.
“Doctor, please tell me something!” she burst out.
“Do you have any relatives?” he asked.
“My parents passed away, I am divorced, but I have children, and grandchildren. And why do you need to know about my relatives?”
“You see, you have a tumor. Here,” the doctor showed where the tumor was on the pictures. “It is malignant, according to the lab results. This explains your constant headaches, insomnia, and persistent exhaustion. The worst part of this is that the tumor has a tendency to grow quickly. It grows. This is the worst part.”
“So do I need surgery?” She asked, feeling herself getting frozen from a horrifying premonition.
“I am afraid, no.” The doctor now looked even more concerned. “Here are your EKG results for the past year. You have a very weak heart. It seems it is compressed from all sides and cannot work at its full capacity. It may not survive the surgery. That’s why we have to start with the heart first, and only then…”
He didn’t finish, but the woman understood that “then” may never actually come. Either the heart will not survive, or the tumor will suffocate her.
“By the way, your blood test is not so good, either,” the doctor said. “I will prescribe you some drugs, but you need to help yourself. You need to take care of your health, and morally prepare for the surgery.”
“Positive feelings, warm relationships, connection with your family. Fall in love, for that matter! Browse through a photo album, remember happy childhood days.”
The woman only scoffed.
“Try to forgive everyone, especially your parents.” The doctor suddenly advised. “It unburdens the soul. I have seen cases in my practice when forgiveness did miracles.”
“Oh really?” the woman asked sarcastically.
“Believe it or not. There many secondary factors in medicine. Quality care, for example. A supportive environment. Forgiveness can also become a medicine, and a free one at that. You don’t need a prescription for forgiveness.”
To forgive. Or to die. Forgive or die? Die, but not to forgive? When the choice becomes a matter of life and death, you just need to decide, which direction you are looking into.
Her head was hurting. Her heart was aching. “Where will you store your resentment?” “Here, and here.” Now, it was hurting physically. The resentment grew, it needed more. It wanted to get rid of its host, it wanted to take over the body. The stupid resentment didn’t understand that the body would not handle it, that it would die.
She remembered her first offenders — those ones, from childhood. Father and mother who either worked or argued between themselves. They didn’t love her the way she had wanted them to. Nothing helped — not the good grades, not obedience, not protest or rebellion. After a while, they separated and each formed a new family where there was no room for her. When she was 16, they sent her to a vocational school in another city, with a suitcase and some money to get her started. That was it, she became independent, and said “I will not forgive!” She was carrying this resentment with her all her life, she swore that it would die with her, and it seemed this was now indeed bound to happen.
But she had children, grandchildren, and that widower from work who clumsily tried to hit on her, and she didn’t want to die. No, seriously — it was too early to die! “I must forgive,” she decided. “I must at least try.”
“Parents, I forgive you for everything,” she said hesitantly. The words sounded artificial and unconvincing. Then she took a piece of paper and wrote: Dear parents! I am not with you angry anymore. I forgive everything.
She felt a bitter taste in her mouth, the heart clenched, and the headache became even worse. But she clenched the pen even tighter, and stubbornly, one line at a time, kept writing, I forgive you. I forgive you. No relief, only rising annoyance.
“Not like that,” the Angel whispered. “The river only flows in one direction. They are older, you are younger. They were before, you were after. You did not birth them, they birthed you. They gave you an opportunity to be born in this world. Be grateful!”
“I am grateful. And I really want to forgive them.”
“Children have no right to judge their parents. You don’t forgive your parents. You ask for their forgiveness.”
“For what? Have I done them anything wrong?”
“You have done something wrong to yourself. Why did you let this old resentment stay inside you? What is your head aching for? Which stone are you carrying in your chest? What is poisoning your blood? Why does your life flow like dried-up brooks, and not like an abundant river? Would you like to be right, or healthy?”
“Is this all because of my resentment towards my parents? Was it the thing that destroyed me??”
“I warned you,” the Angel said. “Angels always warn — don’t store, don’t carry, don’t poison yourselves with bitterness. It rots, it stinks, it kills all life around it. We warn! If a human chooses bitterness, we have no right to interfere. But if they choose forgiveness — we must help.”
“Will I still be able to break that reef? Or is it too late?”
“It’s never too late to try,” the Angel said softly.
“But they are gone long ago! I have no one to ask forgiveness, there is nothing I can do…”
“Ask. They will hear. Or, maybe they won’t. You’re not doing it for them, you are doing it for yourself.”
“Dear parents,” she began. “Please forgive me if I did anything wrong… Forgive me for everything.”
She was talking for a while, then got quiet and listened to herself. No miracles — the heart was still aching, the head was still hurting, no special feelings, everything as usual.
“I can’t even convince myself,” she confessed. “So many years have passed.”
“Try it differently,” the Angel said. “Try being a child again.”
“Get on your knees, and talk to them, like you did as a child, call them mommy and daddy.”
She lingered a bit and then kneeled. She made a bowl shape with her hands, looked up and said, “Mommy, daddy.” And then again, “Mommy, daddy…” Her eyes opened wide and filled with tears. “Mommy, daddy, it is me, your daughter… forgive me… forgive me!” Her body started shaking with sobs, and then tears started flowing unhindered. And she kept on saying, “Forgive me, please forgive me. I had no right to judge you. Mommy, daddy…”
It took a long time for the tears to dry out. Exhausted, she sat on the floor, back against the couch.
“How are you?” the Angel asked.
“I don’t know. Not sure. I feel empty,” she replied.
“Repeat this daily for 40 days. As a treatment course. As a chemotherapy. Or, if you like, instead of chemotherapy.”
“Ok, yes. Yes. 40 days. I will.”
Something was pulsing in her chest, pricking the insides with little needles and rolling around in hot waves. Maybe those were the crumbled pieces of the reef. And for the first time her head didn’t hurt for anything, anything at all…
This parable was originally presented to me in Russian by a beautiful human, Dan Naor. I am grateful for his wisdom and inspiration.