It was late—early, really—maybe around 3 am. I was leaving a new friend’s apartment, which was like a mother-in-law’s suite in the back of another house.
As I stepped into the alley a police car shone it’s headlights on me and two cops jumped out of the car. I have to imagine they were waiting for me, since I didn’t see them drive up the alley from any appreciable distance, and it would be an odd time and place for a chance meeting.
After the typical initial interrogative pleasantries, the detainment phase began in earnest with a demand that I turn around and put my hands on my head. I paused just long enough to reveal that I was considering my options, instead of being obsequiously acquiescent.
“You don’t wanna fight me!” I was informed by the chatty one. His partner had taken his post about ten feet away with a hand on his weapon. (I don’t think he actually drew it.) Up to that point I think I was doing my best to be careful and to be calm, but as I was told what I didn’t want to do, it became clear to me that I was also being annoyed… because I was being harassed. I did wanna fight him.
I also wanted to extract myself from this interaction as quickly and gracefully as possible. I also wanted to bed down for the night in a place of my choosing, not a cell these two would escort me to. I wanted to live to see another sunrise. I chose to comply.
After a pat down and a few minutes of lecturing on the inappropriateness of my behavior—essentially, leaving a Santa Monica residence from the back on foot in the wee hours (while black?)—I was left to proceed with my exodus.
I have yet to reach the promised land.
Forgive and Forget
This cliche has been heard so many times! People tend to take it one of two ways.
On the one hand, they might conflate forgiveness with forgetfulness, as if they were two sides of the same coin. When they forgive, you can count on them never to bring it up again. Or they might be unwilling to forgive, because the memory of the hurt is just too strong or too important; maybe it’s still present.
And on the other hand are the revisionists who decide the saying got it wrong. They have there counter-cliche—forgive, but never forget. They would have us believe the old proverbial wisdom is a holdover from a time, when people were kinder or more reasonable; or worse, that the suggestion to “forgive and forget” was devised, or at least popularized, as a trick by powerful transgressors to encourage the masses around them to be more pliable.
Then there’s what the saying actually says: forgive and forget. Two actions, which are really decisions to commit to, which could be done together or separately, but are offered in combination as a prescription for…
For what? What outcome can we expect if we follow this advice?
Powers and Superpowers
Forgiving and forgetting are each great powers that we all have at our disposal.
Now, the idea of the power of forgiveness is familiar enough, but I know it might seem strange to some folk to talk about the “power” to forget. After all, most of the occasions when we consider our capacity to forget come about because either we’re trying to remember something, or we’re wishing someone else would remember something. Forgetting is generally perceived as a fault to overcome, not a power to deploy.
Maybe you’ve heard that the body responds to mental images just the same as it does to events in the physical environment. And maybe that’s a little oversimplified or exaggerated, but the fact remains that for decades visualization practices have been a popular tool for enhancing real-world performance used by world class athletes, super-successful entrepreneurs, therapists, and self-help guides of every type. You may have even used some kind of visualization to impact your own real life. Have you? Clearly what the mind perceives matters.
Forgetting offsets the powers of memory and imagination and enhances our ability to be selective about which of our past experiences we use to build our future. (Did you know you’re building your future? Did you know you build it out of your past and, especially, your present experiences?)
Anyway, like forgetting, forgiving is this great human power, but what turns it into a super-power is learning the formula for how to use forgiveness to do the miraculous. Properly applied, the power of forgiveness works miracles.
And this formula is super-simple—all you need is to know who to forgive, and for what. (Can you say “who for what”?)
Now I know there’s already someone saying, “It’s ‘whom’! You have to know whom to forgive. The verb is transitive, in this case…” yada, yada, yada. And I’m just gonna ask you to forgive me… because it’s beside the point, and more importantly, I don’t want you to miss the magic because you got caught up in minutiae.
I almost called it a “secret” formula, just because I have so many cliches embedded in my mind—they’re like power tools we can use to make building our lives easier—but it’s really no secret. This formula has been around at least a couple thousand years.
That cat Yeshua (“Jesus”) makes it clear, a number of times, that our task, if we would follow his example, is to be forgiving. And not just on special occasions, but as a lifestyle.
Somebody asked him once, “Hey, I read somewhere I have to forgive folks seven times, before I can get back at ‘em. Is that right? How many times do you say I have to forgive?” This questioner was conveniently forgetting to consider the symbolism of the number seven (but we ain’t gonna get into that today).
So Yeshua says—and I imagine he looked at him funny first like, “Are you kidding me?”—he says, “Dude, seventy times seven,” which is to say, JUST FORGIVE! I assure you that if your version of “forgiveness” is a countdown to retribution, it’s not really forgiveness at all.
And we gotta do it, if we’re into following the example of a truly miraculous life. I don’t know a better word for it when a man gives a message that he never records into anything but the ears and hearts of other people—who don’t even really understand it, for the most part—and that same, fringe, revolutionary message is still being shared around the whole world 2000 years later. That’s a miracle!
It couldn’t be simpler: just forgive. Who? Everyone. For what? Everything.
Everyone, for everything. Every little thing, every big thing. If it upsets, annoys, or otherwise disturbs you, forgive it.
And then don’t forget to include yourself. I don’t know of anyplace where Yeshua is on the record saying to forgive yourself, but you don’t need me to tell you that you have offended yourself, probably on many occasions, and probably in ways no one else ever could. What you may need to hear from me is that you are just as worthy of your mercy as anyone else.
You are somebody. Forgive everyone.
And I don’t know that there’s anything else to say on the subject. Just forgive.
What I’m Not Saying
I’m not saying to forget everyone and everything in order to transform your forgetfulness into a superpower. I think that may be what people are trying to do, sometimes, when they drown their lives in alcohol or drugs or when they uproot themselves from their circumstances and run away, only to regenerate the same circumstances they ran from, again and again. Forgiving and forgetting are not two sides of the same coin.
And I’m not saying never to forget. It is certainly possible to hold on to old grievances long after the memory serves any sort of resolution. Maybe you can remember when someone kept reminding you of that wound from all those years ago that would have long since healed, except for it being reopened again and again for a fresh examination.
I asked before what outcome awaits us if we can manage to, both, forgive and forget. What happens when we forgive, then do whatever work is required to restore our relationship to a point where the memory of the harm we experienced (and/or perpetrated) is no longer helpful, no longer necessary? What happens when we forgive, then qualify ourselves to forget?
What happens? Miracles.
Black lives matter. (Can you say, “Black lives matter”?)
We have a lot of work ahead of us to restore some seriously busted relationships. We’re gonna get that work done a lot faster, a lot better, and lot more gracefully if we can forgive first.
But even that first forgiveness might rightly be considered a miracle…