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.

One Comment Add yours

  1. It also struck me that your forgiveness too didnt stop with it self. It opened hearts of others too, like mine for totally unrelated issue I had with my mom. It’s like uncorking the bottle and energy flows: when I felt yours I have opened mine too. Thank you.

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