Lisa Hickey travels from Germany to the comments on a blog post to discover that forgiveness is an action word.
I didn’t expect to like Germany. It wasn’t on my itinerary, just an accidental stop on my way to better places. But I love that I can rent a bicycle right there at the train station; and even though the words on the signs are long and look unpronounceable, at least they have letters I recognize. I am immediately at home among the clatter of cycles on the city street. Everyone bikes. The buildings are sweeping expanses of stone, large archways, and red roofs.
I pedal out of Munich, over rolling hills, and past clock towers. I’m looking for a lake 20 miles south, and when I arrive I’m surprised to note everyone is topless.
The only reason I am in Stamberg, the German city-by-the-lake, is that I was in Italy the night before. I had a rail pass and no place to sleep, and a train with a sleeper car was Munich-bound. The lake water is delightful. The people are cheerful and talkative. I feel like I’ve stepped inside an 18th century European painting and I don’t want to leave.
I thought I’d hate Germany. I didn’t want to go because it was a country I couldn’t forgive. I couldn’t forgive the fact that much of the Holocaust happened in Germany. I couldn’t forgive all the nightmares that caused me. The sick feeling in my stomach every time I thought about it. I couldn’t forgive the fact that I would pray in school that teachers wouldn’t make me learn about what happened in concentration camps. Please don’t let that really have happened. I would crinkle my eyes shut in an effort to block out the images formed in my head from the stories I read.
Clouds roll in; there is the smell of thunder. The lake people and I disperse to a shanty that sells waffles and ice cream. People are laughing and running. A couple kisses, their wet t-shirts wrinkling around their skin. A few hailstones fall.
The logical part of my brain knows that I can’t hate an entire country because of some unspeakable acts by a small faction of people some 60 years ago. I am a logical person. Most days I am open-minded and non-judgmental. But when I try to think my way into forgiveness, I can never do it.
Yet, of course forgiveness is possible. And the key for me came from a mantra that makes its way around recovery rooms: “Act first, feelings will follow.”
The way to forgive is not to think you forgive someone. It’s not to feel forgiveness.
It’s not even to say the words, “I forgive you.”
The way to forgiveness is to act in a way that is different than when you were unforgiving. True forgiveness is an action, not a feeling.
Soon after The Good Men Project launched, there was a comment on a blog post about how “women sit around all day and talk about their feelings.”
I was in a tizzy. How dare someone perpetuate that stereotype! My fight response was classic, “I’LL SHOW HIM…” I swooped into the comment section where I had my first encounter with Aaron Gouveia, aka @daddyfiles.
We battled it out. My rant: “Hey Aaron, the women I know talk about their jobs, the economy, the intricacies of parenting, global warming, politics, sex, and every once in a while, moisturizing cream. But I’ve never once in my life sat around with friends talking about my feelings.”
His rebuttal: “Women may talk about all of those things, but in the course of that discussion, they talk about how they feel about each of those things. It’s a different kind of discussion than men have.”
Arguments in the comments section tend to end badly. Still fuming, I stopped talking and took the only action that made sense to me.
I hired him.
That single act of forgiveness brought countless acts of good. Aaron went on to write the single most viewed article on our site. He humors us when we want to have a “vehement disagreement about porn.” He has run the DadsGood section, getting hundreds of posts from dozens of dad bloggers, professionally, without complaint, for an absolute pittance.
Feeling something, and keeping that inside you—that may be a feminine trait. But acts of forgiveness? They are as macho as you can get.
Cycling back to Munich from the lake, I ride though what can only be described as an enchanted forest. I pop out into an unfamiliar countryside again, become disoriented, lose my sense of direction. I ride along till I see two German men, hear them arguing back and forth in German. The amount of words I know in German is less than five. Turns out, I only need one.
“Munich?” I say, exaggeratedly shrugging my shoulders, palms to the sky.
“Acth, München” one of them says, and points me in the right direction.
I give a laugh and a casual salute, and am on my way.
Forty years of hidden resentment, and Germany is finally forgiven.
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