The old adage, Forgive and Forget, can present some big challenges and often proves to be pretty troublesome.
We nod our heads in somber understanding upon hearing the response 'I can forgive, but I can't forget.’ But is it really possible to forgive without an element of forgetting? Forgiveness implies a letting go of resentments which bind us to an incident of sometimes traumatic proportions. And letting go, really letting go, requires a lot. The chokehold of old grudges, while exhausting, almost becomes a part of our survival. So releasing that grip in favor of forgiveness is quite a tall order. And therein lies the problem. Forgiving, by itself, is only a partial discharge of bitterness and anger. Freedom and the ability to live fully in the present comes only when we allow ourselves to forget.
I went out this morning to watch as the full moon set and the sun rose over Florida's Gulf of Mexico. It's a ritual and joy of mine when visiting my adopted home state. I did much of my growing up in Hillsboro Beach, just north of Pompano and developed this early morning habit as a boy. There has never been one that wasn't awe-inspiring.
Today, my meditative moments were punctuated by an encounter with a Firefighter from Mississippi who had also come down to welcome the beauty and wonders. We chatted for quite a while, revealing his life-saving work and my journalism for ChaplainUSA. In turn, I asked him about how he deals with all of the trauma and how he is able to process or forget what happens in his job. I wondered aloud how he forgives those who do irreversible harm to others. This father of a young son explained that it is imperative if he is to be the kind of parent he wants to be. "You can't carry the things we see and do around with you. So you forgive and forget. It's the only way."
As the red sun broke through the horizon urging the yellow-white moon to settle back into the sea, the savvy of this heroic public servant was evident. A new day can't dawn until the old one disappears. You simply cannot forgive until you forget.
Arlen Becker, blog contributor and old friend, writes a regular thought-for-the-day. He says that "By forgiving the perceived errors of others and ourselves we are releasing our own minds of the burden of anger which is often keeping us from our joy. Forgive each time it comes up and soon it will be gone from the mind. Forgive quickly and leave the burden behind and find your happiness sooner." He is right of course. I think this forgiveness wisdom contains the essence of how to 'forget'. The first part is to disallow a resentment chokehold in the first place, never permitting it to cripple you. The second is to examine your part in an old wound and forgive yourself right along with the one who did harm, thus ending the victim/perpetrator relationship. Memories of hurt may remain, but they will have no power. The present is poisoned when the past lurks around every corner. In order to live fully, we must move on. By forgiving AND forgetting we are delivered from bondage to enjoy life here, now, and in the future.