Posted by: Kate | March 4, 2009

Not Forgiven

When I was young – I think the first time I remember it happening was when I was in about third grade, and I know it continued, intermittently, until I was 15 – my father had a volatile and unpleasant temper. He never physically harmed me, but he scared the crap out of me a time or two, and he scarred me, emotionally. He said things that were hurtful, just for the sake of being hurtful. He made threats that I believed. He had a refrain, pulled out just often enough that I fully believed it, without being so frequent that it lost some of its effect: “I wish you had never been born.”

At 12, I was raped. Violently. By an acquaintance, someone whom I would recognize if I saw him on the street but whose middle name or personality I do not know. At 17, I was raped again. Not violently, but after consuming so much alcohol I’m surprised I didn’t end up hospitalized. This time, it was – in theory – a friend. And aside from my college roommate and perhaps one or two other girlfriends, no one ever stepped forward to support me or protect me from this man’s later taunts and insults. “You ought to thank me,” he said once, “because I did it while you were drunk. Because, I tell you what, it obviously hurt.”

When I was about 14, I had a bad complexion. (I still do, truth be told, but have reached a level of acceptance and ennui about it by now.) At a family party, my great-grandmother, whom I loved beyond reason, and my great-uncle’s fiancee of 30-some-years, decided to point out to me just how bad my complexion was. How it would be better if I just washed my face once in a while – as though I hadn’t been aware of it and hadn’t done a thing to try to make it better. This happened during dinner, with 20 other family members gathered ’round. I was appalled.

When I was 16, my mother’s parents took me on a camping trip to Tennessee, along with my 14-year-old cousin and 7-year-old sister. It was horrible. My grandparents, never overburdened with things like tact and sensitivity, seemed to have decided it was their God-given duty to humiliate me, in public, as often as possible. Wearing a bathing suit? Let’s point out the bodily flaws. Eating too much or too little or just not quite the right foods? Let’s announce it, loudly, to all and sundry. Sharing the same air space with a male of similar age, regardless of whether we were actually, you know, interacting? Point it out, again loudly, in ways that could only possibly lead to the granddaughter feeling like a whore while the poor defenseless young man goes slinking for the nearest exit. It was a week of hell, and sometimes when Willem is looking for entertainment he asks me about it, because I still get riled up and revved just thinking about it.

Between 13 and 10 years ago, Willem was serially unfaithful. With mutual acquaintances, strangers, and roommates. He lied about it, and – sometimes this is even worse – assumed that I was being just as unfaithful, myself, solely because thinking that made it easier for him to continue his dalliances.

A post-college roommate stole $400.

A person I thought was a friend chose to berate me, publicly, for an expressed opinion, without letting me know it was going to happen or finding out how I might feel.

A coworker sabotaged my career.

That’s all I can think of for now, but it seems like just about enough, don’t you think? As a list of grave wrongs and deep, deep hurts, it stands under its own merit. Things have been done to me, at one time or another, that have absolutely broken my heart and, sometimes, threatened my sanity.

I have forgiven none of them.

But, at the same time, I don’t hold a grudge. I’ll resent things for a while, of course; I’ll mull over them and obsess a little and ruminate more than is healthy. But, with time, I’ll let go. I’ll find a new way of coping with that person. I’ll move on.

It’s an important distinction, I think, that between forgiving and moving on. I believe it’s not merely important, but crucial, to be able to move on when bad things happen. Carrying that resentment, bearing that grudge, holding those bad feelings: there’s a reason that those phrases contain a sense of physical labor, of hardship and sustained effort. It’s bad for the brain, perhaps also bad for the body, to hang onto misery and cart it around for extended periods of time. Letting go, moving on, setting things aside: these are freeing, lightening sorts of actions. They’re often scary and hard, too, but ultimately, better.

But forgiveness? Doesn’t figure in my world. To me, the word has a fundamental sense of inequality, a forgiver who holds this power of forgiveness over the forgivee. In order to be able to grant you forgiveness, I must place myself a step above you, to absolve you of your actions and perhaps also of your guilt.

I think forgiveness has an important place in the world, most particularly with religion, but also with lenders and with parents. Various transgressions and misbehaviors on the part of those with less authority can be forgiven, can be granted clearance from that higher power – be it God or just a pissed-off Mama – to the penitent. But between comparative equals in society? It just doesn’t feel right, somehow. I don’t have – and don’t want – the authority over any other human to be able to grant forgiveness, even if it only happens inside my own head.

So, no, I have not forgiven. I think my version of moving on is what many people think of as forgiveness, and that’s fine. I prefer to consider it more a case of quietly – and sometimes loudly – reaching a resolution and finding something new to work on.

This is part of a weekly carnival, hosted by yours truly, in an attempt to find more structured and topical sorts of posts, once in a while. Several friends already take part, and there’s always room for more. Let me know if you join in, and I’ll add you to the list.

We’re up to five: JMLC, Bain0, BTW, fraught and Heather.



  1. Interesting. I remember a conversation we had about forgiveness many years (and a different blog) ago. Your perspective helped me to think about mine then and now. I’ve posted my entry and now am off to swim. Hope your day has some sun in it. 🙂

  2. I’m not sure I’d be able to forgive were in your shoes.

    I’m sitting out today’s carnival. I have a migraine hangover and can’t think to write.

  3. I’m kind of a mish mash of things: I can hold a grudge. I can forgive a number of things and I can merely move on from others. I try to excise (or limit) my involvement with persons I hold grudges on, so I guess in that way, it might be a semi moving on. Or would that be avoidance? Either way, it makes me feel better.

  4. Wow. You’re an amazing gal, you know that?

  5. That is a lot to have to forgive. And it isn’t easy. You are the better person for it…but the rape? I don’t think I could ever forgive.

  6. I’m in for this week; just posted. And, again, promised myself I wouldn’t read yours before writing mine. Yours is a unique perspective and I’m going to be chewing on what you said for a good while.

    And, gosh, maybe feeling better about my own lack of.

  7. Great post!

    You can add me to the list. I was going to sit out, but then had some thoughts.

  8. Well if to forgive is devine, then none of us are capable. I don’t agree about the ‘being a higher power’ in order to forgive. I’m a great forgiver but not forgetter if you know what I mean. Therefore do I really forgive? If I can’t forget . ..hmmm tying myself in knots over that one!

    I think some of the things that have happened to you are unforgivable anyway.

  9. I realy treidd to participte in this one…I even started a post for the kids’ blog but things got a little angry. March 4 was the 4th anniversary of Derek’s colon repair after a botched G-tube placement which nearly took him from us. Anyway I still have not forgiven that surgeon and know she could have prevented the “complication” with the use of a scope. She was in a hurry to go on vacation that night. when I beggedthe nurse to call her she tried to have him fired, instead he was transferred. Later I found out, her vacation was a job interview at another children’s hospital where she is incharge of the resident program AND assistant director of surgery. Now that Derek’s health has settled down I will be sending a letter to our local board about not reinstating her licsense + a cc to her and the children’s hospiatl she now works at. Here we are picking up all of the pieces and barely able to make ends meet because of her laziness, THUS I HAVE NOT FORGIVEN HER.
    BTW You should forgive but never forget, at least IMHO. If you can continue a relationship and not feel angry and it is healthy for you both, then you have succeed in forgiveness. But you should never put yourself in position to be hurt like that again by the same person.

  10. Hi, your post was very moving. That is quite a long list of abuses, and I don’t believe you have to forgive anyone. It doesn’t mean you don’t move on, but some transgressions are unforgivable. I am sorry no one stood up for you. We all need to help each other, to be brave, and to live with honor.

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