Back in the 80's, when my stepdad was dying of bone cancer, I received a call from my mother one evening. She said he wanted to apologize to me, but to not feel obligated to offer forgiveness unless I really meant it.
When he got on the phone he was crying hysterically. Whether or not I realized it at the time, I know now that when we had this last conversation he was in excruciating pain. He died a few weeks later.
His apology was faltering, due to the extremity of his crying. At that moment in time my heart went out to him. I simply didn't have it within me to hate this man who had stolen my virginity, nor to use his feeble condition as an opportunity to get my revenge. The things I could have said! Oh, the torment I could have inflicted which still would have been mild compared to the 8 years that he forced himself on me. Well, I couldn't. Not only couldn't but it didn't even occur to me at the time.
It would be years down the road before I even remembered having this conversation with my abuser. When I did, I felt that I'd betrayed myself somehow. But now, I'm not so sure.
Isn't it true that a huge part of forgiveness is a willingness to forgive as opposed to harboring bitterness? It's not all emotion--surely our wills play a dominant role in the matter. When I reconsider my words to him (which I don't recall precisely, only that they extended forgiveness), something new occurs to me. I really did forgive him.
My journey of healing hadn't even begun way back in the 80's. My goodness, I would be close to 50 before I made much progress in the direction of recovery. But when I spoke forgiveness into the ear of my tormentor, it was authentic.
What's tripped me up is confusing the act of forgiveness with the necessary ongoing work of healing. I'm still dealing on a daily basis with the aftermath of what he did to me, but that doesn't negate the initial act of offering mercy to my stepdad on his deathbed.
I can't resist comparing The King of the Mountain's heartwrenching apology with the primly formal note from my mother several years ago. There was passion and angst in my abuser's plea for forgiveness. My mother's apology left me cold, and feeling somehow insulted. What made the difference? I think the fact that she's never been convinced that she really did anything wrong. How easy for her to put it all on my stepdad. There were clearly no tears shed when she wrote me the note, contrasted with his agonized cries.
In the wake of realizing I did indeed forgive him is a little current of excitement. I really am capable of forgiveness! My heart isn't cold and forbidding like my mother's, but open to the possibilities of extending grace where least deserved.
What will it take me to forgive her? Possibly more time than I'll have in this life. Though I was determined a couple of years ago to extend her forgiveness, I soon realized I just wasn't there yet. Not ready, and who knows when I will be. The wound created by her cold passivity and non-protection apparently goes deeper even than the 8 years of sexual abuse inflicted upon me by her hubby.
I did and I do forgive him. With sincerity of heart I hope he made his peace with God before he left this earth. I just hope that somewhere in this sad tale there is some component of hope, of new life, of grace.