Prologue: The temper of the times, nationally and globally, politically and personally, is wroth. Division and anger reign. I do not stand apart, casting my judging eye on all ‘round about me. For I, as opinionated and, I confess, as grudge-bearing as (and, depending on the subject, perhaps more than) the next person, bear in my body, my belly the prevailing tensions of these days. As a Christian, I am called to contemplate that cardinal, necessary act, indeed, art of all human relating: Forgiveness.
To say, “I forgive you” is not the same thing as saying, “I’ll forget it.”
I have come to this understanding looking through the introspective lens of my personal history. Past the midpoint of my seventh decade of life, as I reflect, there are some of my earliest years’ experiences that, as bright (though not necessarily attractive) threads, are sewn so inextricably into the tapestry of my personality as to be unforgettable.
One, in particular. My parents, well-intentioned, persistently taught me that my value rests in what I do, not in who I am.
(It has taken years for me to trace the source and to comprehend the point of this lesson of life, which, instilled through my parents, was bequeathed unto them through my African American and Latin/Cuban ancestors. Their long histories of the tribulations of the dominant white culture’s rejection of the nobility of their personhood was distilled into a message, which, though meant to be personally fortifying for the sake of survival, proved, as an unintended consequence, to be self-defeating, verily, self-damning: You never will be perceived as (thus, never can be) better than they are, so, you always must do better than they do.
This “truth,” which I early and deeply took to heart, has left an indelible imprint on my life. Long ago, through the intensive (and ongoing) labor of emotional and spiritual growth, I discerned and have come to believe, indeed, to know that worth is an innate attribute of existence, an ineffaceable aspect of the God-given dignity, in the words of the psalmist, of being “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Nevertheless, on occasion, forgetting that I am a human being, I strive to prove myself by my human doing.
As some things are unforgettable, again, to say, “I forgive,” is not, cannot be the same thing as saying, “I forget.”