Written by Samantha Slupski
It feels like there is no way to talk about forgiveness without talking about failure. I think of all the ways in which I have failed, or who has failed me. When we fail each other, the way we seek reconciliation through forgiveness. But forgiveness truly looks different for everyone - and that’s what makes it so complicated.
Pt. 1: To forgive others:
When I think about forgiveness, I think about all the people I will never receive an apology from. I have held a lot of anger towards many people for things I know I will never get an apology for. Sometimes a person just simply cannot apologize because of fear, denial, or are they are just simply oblivious, but another reality is sometimes we don’t express that we are hurt. Both things hurt a lot. Either way, I have held anger in my body and it has manifested itself in so many ways. I didn’t know that I needed to just let go. Letting go is not easy.
Before forgiveness comes grief. I feel many of us forget this part, but it’s vital. You grieve what could have been. You grieve what was and what wasn’t. You grieve that they didn’t know any better. You grieve that you let it happen. You grieve not talking about it sooner. You grieve bringing it to life by talking about it at all.
How do we forgive those we will never get an apology from?
I’ve learned that often, space works in lieu of forgiveness. There’s a lyric by Levi the Poet that says, “You may never get your apology.” And it’s true. More often than not, we’re scared to apologize because we are scared to admit that we messed up, that we failed. I’m guilty of this.
Even if people do apologize, some days, all we can do it take actions as the loudest apology. Or some days, actions aren’t enough so we remove ourselves completely.
If we are to look at it through these lenses, to fail and be forgiven is to commit to change and growth. If there is no change, the relationship has to be over. To commit to this boundary is to commit to only allowing people who want to grow and change for the better in your life, which is to commit to wellness.
To let go is to grieve the reality that not everyone around you is committed to wellness.
When you find a person not committed to wellness and growth, you have to let go. Or it will eat at you until there’s nothing left.
Pt. 2: To forgive ourselves:
The hardest battle I’ve ever fought is that in which I forgive myself. It is a battle I still do not consider won. Or maybe I will never win. There often does not feel like there can be anything won with forgiveness because ultimately, you let something go. Whether is be a person, a behavior, a pattern, something is being let go and there are a lot of growing pains in that - even if it is for the better.
When I think about forgiveness, I think about shame. I think about all the ways I could have done something differently but didn’t – all my failure. I think of how I know I will never do whatever thing I did again, but shame has you believe you are bad for doing it at all. You didn’t just do something bad, you are bad and will be bad forever.
Shame is a bitch. Shame doesn’t leave room for forgiveness. Shame just reminds us we failed and convinces us we do not deserve forgiveness. A hard fact is that sometimes, we can apologize and still not be forgiven, so we have an internal battle if we are allowed to forgive ourselves. Shame has told me that I am not allowed to do this.
But what if forgiveness of the self is just a permission to move on without that person, behavior, or pattern? What is forgiveness of the self looks like committing to wellness? Regardless if anyone is around to see it?
I read a quote once that said, “When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t,” and there is everything true about that. But can you forgive yourself, accept that you hurt people, but still move on from that? Maybe it just looks like being committed to wellness in the future. Like I said, actions.
The hard truth is, some people will never see the person on the other side of the failure and that’s okay. Honestly, that’s life. But if we spend the rest of our lives beating ourselves up for something we cannot change, we would all rot from the inside out.
To forgive yourself is to give yourself permission to move on from that in which others may not have moved on from yet. Is that okay? That’s a question I am always asking, but I think the answer has to be yes or we will live in a pool of shame, which is a pool you will undoubtedly drown in. I think to forgive ourselves is to commit to survival.
The truth is, when I really think of forgiveness, I think of all the answers I do not have. I think about how every sentence begs a question mark – how all of this feels so uncertain and confusing. I think about how I wish I had the answers, but accepting that I don’t and can’t, because this looks different for everyone.
Forgiveness always looks messy. Forgiveness often looks like a door slammed shut, or it can look like a “Hello, welcome back.”
But sometimes forgiveness means to just let go and to hold loss, grieve, fail – and learn over and over and over again.
Samantha Slupski is a poet and writer from in Kansas City, Missouri. Her passions include creating and facilitating brave poetic spaces, traveling and performing poems, and figuring out what home means to her. When she is not writing, she is working at an art studio teaching and assisting artists with developmental disabilities or is hiking around the Midwest. You can find out more about her at www.samanthaslupskipoetry.com or on Instagram at @samfromkc.