How to Forgive Someone
First, how severe was the offense?
If he were to rate the damage he felt Doris had caused him and his family on a scale from 1 to 10 Rudy would have boldly announced, “Twelve!” He believed himself to be a failure in his career, a traitor to his inner nature and an underachiever of massive proportions. He blamed all his guilt, his low self esteem and his feelings of unworthiness on the treatment he received from Doris; based on that, his score might be conservative.
What was his perception of the intent behind Doris’s attack?
Rudy believed that Doris did not like him and later in life found evidence outside of his home to support that belief. He had from the beginning been confused as to why she treated him the way she did and why she felt the way she did about him. But he’d never given thought to the “why” of her actions. The only thing he could imagine is that she would like him to disappear and quit drawing attention away from Steve, her natural born son. This is a far cry from wanting him dead, so on our scale Rudy would have given her a “5”.
What is to be gained or lost by forgiving our attacker?
Rudy is preparing to make a decision using Sigmund Freud’s “Pleasure Principle”. In it, Freud posits that humans base all decisions on their evaluation of whether the resulting behavior will bring them emotional pain or pleasure. Or to put it more succinctly, “How will this make me feel?” That’s a pretty powerful concept for it infers that all we really want out of life is to feel good. But before you dismiss that as too simplistic consider why drugs and alcohol are so popular! Rudy explained his application of the principle to Katherine like this:
“Mama, I looked down those two paths you told me about. Along one of them was more of the same garbage I’ve been tripping over for so many years already. All I could see was anger, hate, guilt, frustration—it was, needless to say, very unappealing.”
Katherine remained quiet and let Rudy continue.
“When I looked down the other path it was empty; peaceful, but empty. I didn’t see what was waiting for me down there but I do know that the garbage was gone. And frankly, I’m tired enough of the garbage that I found myself willing to take a risk and head toward the unknown.”
He spit out the piece of grass and turned up to look at her, this time with a humble pride showing on his face.
“So I had a private little ceremony in the back of the Spaghetti Shop, just me in attendance, and I forgave Doris.”
Rudy did not know what awaited him, that is how he would feel, after forgiving Doris. But he did know that he couldn’t stand the pain of continuing to hold her in such contempt. This bears witness to Freud’s belief that in the pain/pleasure balance, avoidance of pain is a more powerful motivator than the pursuit of pleasure. He was so sick of his emotional suffering that he was willing to take a chance on the unknown rather to continue his nightmare. His desire to escape the pain rates a solid “10”.
Forgiving Doris gave Rudy a sense of goodness that he hadn’t felt in a long time and a feeling of humble empowerment; he felt good. This is how he explained it to Katherine:
“So how do you feel now that you’ve buried the hatchet with Doris?”
“I feel good. Actually, I feel better about the whole thing than I ever thought I would. It wasn’t like some blinding flash of light or something, it just kind of evolved. It was like the bleeding had stopped, the patient would live now, but the wound still needed time to mend, you know?”
“That’s how healing works, Rudy; and forgiveness is the first step in the process.”
When someone has wronged us and left us with feeling of anger, resentment and hate, we have some choices as to what to do with those feelings.
First, we can simply tolerate them. And doing so will be akin to putting up with a dull, persistent toothache. There will be times when the pain is so minor it is hardly noticed. But eventually that annoying low-level infection will overpower the body’s defenses and you will have to deal with one of life’s most painful afflictions, a full blown abscess.
Second, we can embrace them. By the time we meet him Rudy has harbored his feelings for Doris for over twenty years and much of that time was spent with the first option, tolerating them. But during times of intense emotion, like when he meets Katherine, these feelings come rushing to the surface with a frightening intensity. We see Rudy repeatedly avowing his hate for Doris with an attitude bordering on sadism. As we will come to learn Rudy knows at a very deep level that while he is in fact angry at Doris, his real rage is at himself. And casting blame on his stepmother for his own perceived inadequacies feels good; or at least it feels better than the intense anger he has for himself.
Or we can do what Rudy finally did; forgive those who trespass against us. When we do it will be like the dentist popping off the gold filling that covered the abscess that has kept us awake the last two nights while we considered grabbing our pliers and pulling the tooth our self. The pain will subside and the healing will begin.
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