I have been hauling around a rotting corpse of an experience for 19 years.
I used to think that the only way to deal with the terrible and tragic thing that happened was to forgive the person who did it. My partner’s brother murdered his wife, then called our home and engaged us in a conversation that twisted and turned between reality and delusion for 45 minutes before he abruptly hung up and killed himself.
It was indescribably traumatic. Of course, I can only speak to my own experience of it.
I’ve heard lots about the healing that comes from forgiveness. The Archbishop of forgiveness himself, Desmond Tutu, who knows about atrocity, says, “To forgive is the highest form of self-interest. I have to forgive so that my anger and resentment and lust for revenge don’t corrode my own being.”
And I get that intellectually. But forgive? Forgive has not worked for me. Some acts are just unforgiveable. And he’s dead, so there is nobody to forgive.
Dead or not, I found myself spending a lot of life energy keeping the hell in my imagination fully staffed, and molten hot for one lone inhabitant. I could not let go, replaying the scenario ten thousand times over in my mind trying to work out an alternative to the reality—an increasingly distant history—that would not budge.
Enter meditation practice and some ancient (but new to me) advice about what to do when forgiveness is beyond reach. Over the course of the past four years, I’ve attended retreats and spent many hours cultivating a wiser way.
I discovered that I am far from alone. The more I explored my interior landscape, and the more I heard from teachers, the better I understood the universal nature of this kind of struggle.
The trauma blew a hole in my heart—and I could not come wholeheartedly back to my life without mending the wound. I found out it was not necessary for me to forgive, but rather to wake up to other thoughts and actions that would relieve the pain.
First among them: putting it down. Simply, carefully, putting it down. I do not have to struggle, repress, or resolve anything. Time has passed, things have worked out in quite miraculous ways—some of which I had a hand in, most of which I didn’t. Any time I even begin to think about the pain, I recognize that I can just let it go. If I find myself way down memory lane thinking sad or scary thoughts, I retrace my steps and get on a healthier path of more fruitful thoughts.
No forgiving necessary.
Simply, put it down.