Hurt and grief block us from seeing a forgiveness meant to give the future a clean slate.
A year ago, an entire community was turned upside down as the nation — even the world — watched stunned, angry, and some, numb to it all.
Ferguson, MO still mourns the loss of Mike Brown. As the memorial drew near, media outlets sought out follow-up stories of those who were left behind. While Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted, he has been a recluse since last fall. As goes the script, he’s become a social pariah who fears for his safety, but doesn’t regret his actions that day. What draws my interest to this story is an interview that Leslie McSpadden, Brown’s mother, did with Al Jazeera. In it, she states
“He wouldn’t even admit what he did was wrong. He wouldn’t admit he had no reason to do what he did. I’ll never forgive him.”
I’ll never forgive him.
Those are the grief-filled words of a mother who lost her son in a violent manner. Additionally, she was forced to grieve in a public way. Forgiveness is often viewed as an act of nobility. We’ve been taught that a mature man is supposed to be able to be the bigger person. However, is it fair to judge our way of forgiveness compared to others?
I’ve been hurt to the point that I had no perceptible idea regarding forgiveness. I’ve also been on the other end where I felt unworthy of forgiveness. Speaking from both perspectives, forgiveness is a concept that we need to be more careful with in its application and expectation.
Forgiveness is particularly hard when there is no correction. Think back to the last time someone hurt you in a way that couldn’t be ignored. Covering the hurt was anger and maybe a slight feeling of revenge. But mentally, grief opens up the thoughts of “why me?” If a person can’t acknowledge that your hurt deserves their remorse and apology then it becomes that much more difficult to move toward forgiving them. You become consumed by wanting an answer to a question where no answer will be enough for you. Dr. Phil is famous for saying you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. You won’t be able to embrace forgiveness if no behavior has been corrected. In some cases, it’s your behavior — the way you look at grief and pain—that has to change though.
Forgiveness isn’t about soothing “present” you, it’s about saving “future” you. I don’t think that “getting over it” is about making you whole in the now. Realistically, there are some things that are impossible to get over. Forgiveness to me represents freeing that dark, cloudy space in your mind. I had no idea how to navigate through the healing process. I wouldn’t let anyone near my hurt because I tried to distance myself from it, too. For years afterward, I hurt others. Hurt and grief block you from seeing that forgiveness is meant to give your future a clean slate.
Finally, forgiveness cannot be rushed. One thing that’s become a topic of discussion within some circles is people of color are subtly compelled to forgive. I remember after the AME church shooting in Charleston happened, a few of the victims’ family members were on television. They told shooter Dylann Roof, as he was taken into custody, that they forgave him. As I stated, this gesture is usually lauded as powerful in that it’s meant to demonstrate acts that are Christ-like. Perhaps because this happened in a religious setting, the expectation was forgiveness was the only response. Although, it’s okay to grieve for a while. It’s okay to spend time with the emotions that come with a sudden loss. My hurt was ruling my life without me fully being conscious of it for over a decade. Forgiveness isn’t genuine until you’ve made up in your mind that what hurt you no longer defines you. To forgive is the key to having hope again. It’s proof that your life can—and will—go on.
When I reached the point of genuine forgiveness, I became less angry.
I took responsibility for the actions I take in my life now. I accepted that I’d never get the apology I felt I was owed. That was my power. I find myself thinking about all of the families who can’t forgive the officers who they believe should be punished. I believe that as a nation, we need to understand that forgiveness isn’t a BAND-AID. It’s not meant to appease the media or be used to exude courage. Forgiveness means nothing if we aren’t prepared to deal with the consequences of the hurt our core belief systems have caused. If any of these lost lives and grieving families are to mean anything, as a country, we have to be honest about the unfair, unjust and unrelenting offenses that have led us to be in a constant state of rage toward each other. The easiest path to forgiveness is to stop avoiding the pain that has preceded it.
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