When I was in high school, I had an English teacher who would post a quote on the board every day. We were required to write half a page on our thoughts about it. I ended up having him for a semester during both my Sophomore and Junior years, and the first day of both semesters he posted the same quote:
“Forgiveness is the fragrance of the violet which clings to the heel that crushed it”.
This is very similar to a quote attributed to Imam Ali (RA): “Be like the flower that gives its fragrance to even the hand that crushes it.”
But in reality, forgiveness isn’t about what we give to the one we have exonerated. It’s more about us, about being able to move forward and live a life with peace and inner freedom.
I grew up with caregivers who I perceived at that time to be resentful. I experienced my grandmother in particular to be overly mistrusting, guarded, and emotionally distant. She seemed to carry pain that was decades old, letting it shape and twist her into someone who I felt was very unpleasant to be around. I never wanted to become like her. In my youth I felt free, loving, hopeful and positive. I never wanted to lose that quality, so I spent a lot of time thinking about what makes one become a bitter person, versus a compassionate person.
My freshman year of college I made a conscious decision, which I recorded in my personal journal:
What if I learned to forget the wrongs that are done to me? What if I…see situations for what they are, not like “I’m the victim”?…What if I…opened myself up to be hurt again and again, so that my heart won’t become hard…but shaking off the hurt and dealing with it in its real state and moving on? We can choose, I believe, how to view reality; but everyone has some kind of glasses on that distort it- glasses of emotion, past, future, despair, even (looking) through someone elses’s. But if you see life through emotion etc, you can’t see what the true reality is…That’s what I want.
For me, the key to avoiding resentment, and to be able to forgive, is to stay open and be willing to hurt. There is no way to let go of any wrongs committed by another unless one achieves a peace with pain, with unjustice, with unfairness. If we hold on to ideals of how “things ought to be”, in a world where many events and experiences don’t follow that rule, it will only poison our own souls.
My good friend Wael Abdelgawad recently wrote, “So many of us nurse our resentments over the injustices done to us, holding on to our bitterness as if it were precious, when in reality it’s a dead thing…But resentment cannot heal our hearts, no matter how much time passes. Only forgiveness can do that.” What struck me most about what he said was how he described resentment as valuable to the holder. Instead of peace, connection, love, ease, etc. being treasured, the resentment and memories of slights are kept and coddled. People who do this, even some of the time, make it difficult for others to feel safe with them. After all, if we see someone holding a grudge against someone else (especially if it’s something insignificant), how can we be sure the same won’t happen to us with that person if we happen to unintentionally hurt them? Resentment completely undermines the foundation of trust needed in every type of relationship.
I’m glad that I took the time while I was younger to contemplate these things. Now that I’m almost 40, and I’ve been married to and divorced from two different men who hurt me in various but significant ways, I know that I’m better off. I have forgiven both of my ex husbands. I righted their wrongs by moving on into something better than the life I shared with them. I didn’t take let the pain that I experienced with them become a seed that would eventually sprout into a constrictive tangle of rigid pessimism. I still believe in love, I still believe there’s plenty of good to be found in others, and I still believe that there’s more blessing in embracing the natural pains of life than running from them. I am still able to trust, embrace, and give myself completely to another…and that in a more healthy way than I’ve ever been able to do before.
I will also teach my daughter in shaa Allah how to be fearless during the freefalls she will face in life. To be brave when in pain. Then she will also learn how to freely forgive, and stave off resentment. This is a new path, for a new generation.