Reporter Tom Hallman’s piece in the Oregonian about the apology sought after 39 years got a lot of people thinking about and talking about the nature of forgiveness — its necessity, difficulty and its effect on our lives. In this short follow-up interview, Hallman describes the astounding resonance of the story with readers. He said he thought this piece probably got more response than anything else he’d written in his 32 year career. If you haven’t read the piece about the man who sought out his 7th grade teacher to apologize for a wrong almost 40 years later, it’s worth a read.
Where would we be if the people we loved or worked with didn’t forgive us our mistakes? And yet, it’s still damn hard sometimes, maybe most of the time. In my life, forgiveness seems to be a test that I keep having to take again and again. Sometimes, it’s sort of a manageable pop quiz. Other times, it’s some kind of long-form essay exam that stumps me and puts me in a very, very bad mood.
I had one of those just a few weeks ago when I learned my dad is carrying around something he can’t forgive my mother for. My parents haven’t gotten along since their divorce 35 years ago, but I thought they’d bury the hatchet once and for all at some point. I’d been thinking about it a lot, since they’ll both be attending my wedding this month.
After I found out their coffee meeting to clear the air had ended, apparently without amends on my dad’s part, I plunged into a deep funk and stayed there for days — a roiling ball of sadness, depression, resentment, anger. After all I had forgiven him for, how could he not do the same for my mother? I wanted to communicate with my dad, but I couldn’t bear to pick up the phone.
Thankfully, grace appeared just a few days later. Talking to a minister friend of mine, I realized how much heft I was putting on my wedding to “heal” everything that was wrong. And that I was imposing a kind of quid pro quo on forgiveness itself. I couldn’t change my dad with words or rage or, in fact, with anything. Nothing I could say could ever talk him — or anyone — into forgiveness. I felt this wash of acceptance rush over me, breaking apart a resistanace that I hadn’t even realized was there. In an instant, forgiveness — and the love I felt for my dad — came rushing back.
When have you desperately needed forgiveness? Have you forgiven the unforgivable? Have you been unable to forgive or to ask for forgiveness? What has that been like? What was the result?