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Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Gift of Forgiveness

You see it in television interviews, read it in newspapers, hear it on the radio...everytime there is a legal case against a person or organization, or when people are interviewed after someone has gotten away with some kind of crime, you hear the word "closure"; all we want is closure, this will give me some kind of closure.

The Oxford Dictionary defines closure as : 1 an act or process of closing. 2 a device that closes or seals. 3 (in a legislative assembly) a procedure for ending a debate and taking a vote. Most people are referring to the first definition, "an act or process of closing". But I think what they are really seeking is an end to their own suffering and a feeling of peace, which I think they expect a legal proceeding or the receipt of something to do. It doesn't. Closure is over-used and misinterpreted, a tacky and misunderstood cliche.

It's not that I don't have empathy for a family that has lost a loved one to a drunk driver, for instance, standing outside the courthouse at the end of the driver's trial, relieved that the whole procedure is over. I can't begin to know how it must feel. But although it may be closure with respect to the end of the trial, it won't end their suffering or give them peace.

The end to suffering happens gradually over time and is the result of inner work, not a court verdict. Something else that I'm afraid we human beings mis-identify as "closure", is revenge. We believe that if someone is punished for what they have done to us, that we will feel better. Perhaps for a short while we do, but as many often discover, revenge doesn't put things back to where they were before. And it often leaves us feeling worse in the long run.

What truly ends our suffering in all of these cases is forgiveness. But forgiveness is also a word that is misunderstood. Many people believe that forgiveness means they have somehow approved the other person's heinous act, or given permission for them to continue to behave that way. We often feel that by remaining angry and hateful towards the other person, we are punishing them in some way. More often than not, they don't even feel it!

What forgiveness does is relieve our own suffering by helping us to let go of our anger and pain. And often when we do this, we are more able to understand the cause of the other person's behaviour. Forgiveness liberates us from the burden of our own misery, and clears our view just like clouds parting to reveal a crystal blue sky. True, heartfelt forgiveness is something we all need to practise once in awhile...all the time, in fact!

Every time Christmas rolls around I inevitably bump into someone who feels Grinch-like about the whole thing, for various reasons. Most of the time it has to do with old wounds, disappointments and misunderstandings around family or friends. To all of you who are feeling this way even a little bit this season, give yourself the wonderful gift of forgiveness. Let it go, even just for a little while and enjoy the peace that it brings. I wish a peaceful, happy Christmas to you all :-).

IJ