I am struggling at the moment with a project that’s been affectionately dubbed “Dragonlande” around here, a fantasy series that involves many themes. One of them is forgiveness. (So many novels focus on martial themes, and the glories of hierarchy and war. I’m trying to do something a bit closer to my heart. But that’s another post.)
Forgiveness. It comes so randomly. It came to me yesterday, in the car, after nearly 25 years. It came in a flash of insight, in a flood of tears. And–don’t ask–to the tune of Billy Idol’s “Eyes without a Face.” (Ah, the banality of salvation and mercy! Just as banal as evil… again, that’s another post.)
You see, I was raped when I was 16. A bit of background: I was always very curious about people, and I grew up sheltered from the excesses of male-perpetrated violence. My father was a consistently loving, intellectually challenging person in my life. I had boyfriends, but they were all really nice guys. I had had sexual experience, but it was all pretty much positive.
So it never occurred to me, even though I knew such things existed, that a man would treat me any differently.
But he did. I trusted him, a new acquaintance from a foreign land I knew nothing about. We both spoke English, and we were both living in a land that was not our home. There was confusion, coercion, menace, but no physical violence. It all stemmed from a horrible misunderstanding, and turned nasty. The nastiness stuck with me, deep inside. I blamed myself. Then I understood better that I had been forced. I forgave myself, eventually. Even the fear that seeing someone who looked like that man faded, until it ceased to bother me. I went on to do whatever I needed to do, without fear, and to have satisfying, loving relationships.
But I never forgave him.
Until I realized he hailed from a country that had been embroiled in a civil war for a decade. Where rape had played a major part in the violence. Where the well of sexuality had been poisoned by the grossest abuses of power. And he was a refugee, in a country not all that welcoming of refugees who looked like him.
I broke into tears when I realized that. Violence doesn’t end with the violent act; it echoes on and on, reverberating and twisting people’s choices. He chose to harm me, but that harm had deep roots.
Finally, finally, after all those years, I gripped the steering wheel. I considered what happened, that what he did was likely tangled with the suffering of thousands.
I forgave him.
I don’t tell this tale to imply that other women should or can forgive men who hurt them terribly. I tell this tale to say: Forgiveness is a gift. It comes when it comes. It cannot be forced. It comes of its own power and volition. It does not undo or erase. But it brings relief, reclaiming.
I am not a survivor–should I have died, when raped?–but a giver of mercy. I can forgive him. There is great power in that.