I was raised Catholic; on a scale of 1-to-Natural-Family-Planning, I’d say we fell somewhere roughly in between always eating fish on Fridays and reenacting crucifixion scenes in school for fun. Catholicism didn’t turn out to be the right match for me, but it did introduce a subject that has followed me and evolved in my life as I’ve gotten older–forgiveness.
The problem with the Catholic idea of forgiveness for me was that it seemed to be about forgiving other people because the creator had forgiven you (basically for just existing), and I didn’t quite understand this logic. It was as if forgiveness was owed as some sort of karmic debt to a mystical Don Vito Corleone I had never met and didn’t understand what I had done to piss him off. Hadn’t he adequately punished me enough when he decided that I would be born with the hair of the lovechild between Gene Wilder and Harpo Marx!?
(For the record, I was really unattractive between ages 1-25.)
Seriously, what had embryonic-me done that was so bad that I was in this constant state of reprimand? “You embryonic glutton!! Your glucose consumption has reached heights of the likes never seen–repent now!!”
(I actually googled “embryonic gluttony” to see what would come up; I can’t believe I had the nerve to do that knowing what the internet usually yields. Here is a picture I found:)
In all seriousness, I have never felt that forgiveness is something you owe to anyone, actually. What I have found to be true in my life, is that forgiveness is ultimately about myself, and not anyone else. Being able to honestly and fully forgive has come down to allowing myself to finally be freed from negative influences in my life, and also being able to forgive myself for whatever negative beliefs I held about myself or my actions. It has nothing to do with being noble, or “choosing the high road.” It just came down to getting to a point where I could let go of the things that were weighing me down. I think maybe for some of us, that point comes quickly, for some it takes much longer, and for others, it never comes. It doesn’t make us better or worse for however long we take, or don’t take, we are the ones who ultimately have the key to lessening our suffering. Everyone experiences life in their own way and in their own time, and I can only speak from my experiences, but I offer these words up to anyone dealing with similar issues, or anyone just looking for another viewpoint. Or anyone who really just wanted to see a side-by-side comparison of me, Gene Wilder, and Harpo Marx.
Even though my days of crucifying my friends for fun are long gone, I think there are important takeaways from many world beliefs, regardless of whether we identify as religious/spiritual/Pastafarian/whatever. Suffering and learning to grow from it is a universal component of being human, and ultimately, part of building our ethical character is that we have to learn what works best for us in order to do so. In the Bible, one of my favorite passages remains Ecclesiastes 3:
A Time for Everything
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
We forgive in our own time, and we accept the freedom it yields in our own time.
Weirdmaste, my friends.