They used to live in my grandmother’s neighbourhood. A big, poor family of eight children. After the eighth child was born, the husband and wife were constantly quarrelling –the husband hadn’t wanted another child, it just meant another stomach to feed and another body to clothe. The wife didn’t mind. God has given us another child, she said, we should be grateful.. But that only angered the husband more. One evening, after weeks of yelling and slamming doors, the couple began to argue again. The wife was making chapattis in the kitchen and the husband stood, defiant, in the doorway. The argument got heated. The wife turned off the cooker, turned to her husband, and ordered him to get out. She had had enough of his ridiculous behaviour and at this rate, she was better off without him. Her actions infuriated him and he flew across the kitchen, grabbing the first knife he could get his hands on. He turned to his wife, having no idea what he was about to do, when his young 21-year-old son threw himself in front of his mother. The knife sliced through his chest, instead. Their son died.
The husband and wife stopped talking after that. A dark, painful cloud showered over their home. The wife moved away with her broken heart, saying she couldn’t bear to spend the rest of her life with such a man. The husband, drowning in his grief and distress, blamed his wife. If they hadn’t had that eighth child maybe what happened would never have happened.
Several years passed. The separation and the story behind it became fairly familiar amongst the people of the neighbourhood. The couples’ disconnected paths brought on painful sighs and hushed whispers from the women, with pitying, teary gazes.. They would blame the husband, cursing him for the tragic death he had caused.
Time went by like it always does. Years turned into decades. Eyes emptied of tears. Raw wrinkles decorated faces. The harsh silence continued tangling itself around lives and minds. Then, one day, a few of the elder villagers got together. They were worried about the old couple. They should forgive each other, one man said. How can they go on living like this, it must be terribly agonizing for both of them, another said. What about rights and death, someone else put in.
After the waves of shock and horror and utter disbelief wore off after hearing my mother relate this story, I thought about forgiveness. How do you forgive something like that? Or do you not forgive at all? Or maybe deep down you do forgive but just can’t come to terms with it? I’ve heard people say that only God forgives, humans are not capable of showing such mercy. At first those words didn’t make much sense but then I later realized that in some situations it was true. Maybe we don’t really know how to forgive.
When we stand before the Almighty, hands stretched out towards the heavens, our eyes squeezed shut as we beg for forgiveness, what do we ask for? What kind of forgiveness do we ask for? We want a complete blank sheet, don’t we? We want another chance. We want our mountains of crimes to be erased, right? We want Him to accept our repentance and let us start again. We don’t want to be reminded of it, or be taunted about it later on, or have it come back to haunt us. We want our sins to be forgiven here and veiled on that day.
Society teaches us to forgive, but never forget. Is that possible? When we say we’ve forgiven another but then continue to remind them of their actions once in a while. Maybe in anger or maybe just to tease or make them feel hurt. That’s not the forgiveness we want for ourselves. What’s that called?