Coping Strategy: Forgiveness

We see it all the time played out in movies and on television. Revenge or vengeance seems appropriate when it makes for a good story line. However, what does our hero always learn in the end? In the final act, when they’ve reached their target and it’s time to pay the piper, what does our hero do? In some cases, they exact their revenge. In others, they turn the offender over to the authorities so that justice might be served.

In any case, our hero learns a valuable lesson and we can too. It might not feel as satisfying at first, but eventually we see the light and hopefully realize that mercy plays an important role in healing. It’s just as important as justice.

You don’t have to be religious to understand the concept of forgiveness. In fact, the best explanation on forgiveness that I’ve read can be found in an article published by staff at the Mayo Clinic. The article is titled, Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness. 

There are many articles relating to the topic of forgiveness posted on the Mayo Clinic’s website. The article mentioned above provides a formula for reaching a state of compassion and understanding. I think the most meaningful statement in the article comes near the end under the header, What if the person I’m forgiving doesn’t change?

Changing your offender’s behavior is not the point of forgiveness, paraphrasing what the article says. Rather, paraphrasing again, forgiveness is about changing your life and bringing YOU peace and happiness.

I think it’s worth repeating, but this time in my own words. Forgiveness is not something you do to someone else. You cannot expect your offender to change their actions because you decide to forgive them. Neither must you condone their actions, rather, in order for you to move forward and find peace you must let go of feelings of resentment and a need for reconciliation and simply forgive. It’s a process you do for yourself in order to find peace.

I heard a sermon this past weekend by a friend and neighbor, Patrick McGee, which inspired me to write this blog about forgiveness. He said, “Forgiveness is the key to our own personal freedom.”

This follows right in line with the closing statement by Mayo Clinic Staff in the article referenced above. They reiterated, “Remember, you can’t force someone to forgive you. Others need to move to forgiveness in their own time. Whatever the outcome, commit to treating others with compassion, empathy and respect.”

There is a film that my wife loves to watch every Christmas Eve as we stay up late wrapping gifts. It’s called, You’ve Got Mail, directed by Nora Ephron and produced by Warner Brothers in 1998. It stars Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks as book store competitors who unknowingly are email pen-pals. There’s a dialogue in the film where Meg Ryan’s character finally develops the courage to insult her rival, Tom Hanks. To this point in the movie she feels that if she could say the right thing at the right time and put her enemy in his place then she might feel better about herself, but as soon as the opportunity presents itself she immediately feels remorseful for being mean.

It’s so poignant and to the point that I’ll share it with you. I’m quoting from the writers of You’ve Got Mail.

Tom Hanks’ character, Joe Fox writes, “Do you ever feel you’ve become the worst version of yourself? That a Pandora’s box of all the secret, hateful parts-your arrogance, your spite, your condescension-has sprung open? Someone upsets you and instead of smiling and moving on, you zing them. ‘Hello, it’s Mr. Nasty,’ I’m sure you have no idea what I’m talking about.”

Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen Kelly responds, “No, I know what you mean, and I’m completely jealous! What happens to me when I’m provoked is that I get tongue-tied and my mind goes blank. Then I spend all night tossing and turning trying to figure out what I should have said.”

Later on in the movie, Kathleen Kelly is confronted by Joe Fox and she has a breakthrough. She easily insults him, but immediately regrets her behavior.

Just before the final act there is a turning point in their contentious relationship where Joe Fox talks about forgiveness which sends Kathleen Kelly on a personal journey of hope and peace and eventually, forgiveness.

I recommend the film. It’s a bit sappy, but it’s a great family film for the holidays and a great object lesson in forgiveness and healing.

In my closing remarks, I’d like to reiterate two points from the Mayo Clinic article, “You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.” Do yourself a favor and learn how to forgive and let go of resentment. Imagine a world where everyone forgives.

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Silver Highlights

I was told by a friend the other day that my hair color was gorgeous. I was surprised by her response because the last time I looked in a mirror my hair was inundated with numerous gray strands. I’m not terribly fond of my premature graying, but my friend’s compliment made me feel better about it. My adorable Aunt Dot commented once on my lovely highlights. I chuckled and said, “If only these silver highlights were intentional.” These expressions of admiration prompted me to think about the topic of graying hair.

I see countless gray-haired individuals pass through the OME. Their stories are familiar. Some of them young like myself and, most of them older. The death invest summary might read, “Lives alone. Hasn’t seen a doc in several years. Has pain meds for unknown medical conditions. Last seen alive by granddaughter who delivered food the night before.” I often will read the obituary in the local paper to find out a little bit more about the deceased individual, but I’m still left with unanswered questions. I wonder what made that person tick. Who was the man before his hair became silver? What caused his silver highlights? Unfortunately, I don’t often get answers to those types of questions.

Is that what we’re reduced to after death? A couple of paragraphs in a death investigation narrative and a black and white photo above an obituary. Hopefully we have loving family who will cherish our life’s story and want to share it with others. Now that’s what I call, “Silver Highlights.” Wisdom that can be gleaned by sharing years of experience. Unfortunately, not everybody is survived by family and friends who can share life’s experiences. To you I would suggest that you share your thoughts while you are alive. You might start by keeping a journal or maintaining a blog. Now I’m not suggesting that every idea that comes out of a person is a gem, but the true loss would be for any person to be forgotten. Some people die alone and end up at the Medical Examiner‘s. They remain at the Medical Examiner’s Office for several months until the county attorney assumes responsibility as indigent and cremates their body.

Recently, my brother was assigned the task of writing his own eulogy for a class assignment. He turned to me for advice since I’m the family’s resident expert in death. As I considered his college writing assignment I pondered on what might be said of me upon my passing. Would I be remembered as a kind, wise, generous grandfather? Would I be survived by my loving, beautiful wife and adoring children? Will my children be married with children of their own? Will my family relay some of my infamous silver highlights? I’m not referring to senior moments here, that is something entirely different. Let me further define a silver highlight as a lesson taught from experience or wisdom shared by a mentor.

I’ll share an example of a silver highlight with you. Toward the end of his life, my wife’s paternal grandfather would tell me upon our visits, “I don’t know you, but I like you.” He suffered from dementia due to years of Parkinson’s, but he was sharp. On one particular visit he spoke a few words of Italian to me. Although he couldn’t immediately recall my name, his ailing mind connected with me in a brilliant way. He slyly grinned at me as he relayed kind words about his beautiful wife who sat patiently beside him. I understood him, you see, because I am Italian. I knew that he knew I was Italian. He was telling me in his own way that he remembered me.

I’ve always told my friends and family that I anticipate the day when I’m old and gray. It is my philosophy that when a person has survived long enough on this magnificent, rotating rock, ever hurling itself through the vastness of space, he or she has earned the right to do and say as they please without scorn or retribution. I was taught to respect and revere my elders. I believe we can learn valuable lessons from those who have tried and failed or tried and succeeded so many times before us. Although I am not as old, relatively speaking, nor nearly as wise as my elders I’ve decided to gracefully accept my premature gray hairs.

I’ve listed below some of my favorite silver highlights or words of wisdom that I’ve adopted over the years from friends and family. Most of the quotes are paraphrased to the best of my recollection. I cannot take credit for these sayings, however, they are what I’ve extracted from lessons learned. Unfortunately, I can’t give credit where credit is due because I cannot with certainty assign a quote to any one person. Although, special thanks goes out to my mentors: Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, Todd, Ed, Erik, Shannon, Bob, Doug, Margaret, Don, Dan, and so many more.

I hope you enjoy. Thank you for reading. The immortal words of Grandpa, “I don’t know who you are, but I like you.”

  • “Always respect your elders.”
  • “You can’t say you don’t like it until you’ve tried it.”
  • “Life is what happens when you decide to make a plan.”
  • “Don’t get discouraged, make the best of every situation.”
  • “Don’t stress about work. Work is what you do to support those you love. You leave work to go home to the ones you love.”
  • “Keys to success: See one, do one, teach one.”
  • “If you set a goal, you are more likely to attain that goal.”
  • “Every person needs three things to be happy: A friend, a hero, and something to occupy the time.”
  • “If you think you should do something, then act.”
  • “If you think you should not do something, then don’t.”
  • “Our goal and our purpose is to do no harm.”
  • “Don’t get entangled and lost in the how to’s, visualize the proposed end product and arrive.”
  • “Work smart, not hard.”
  • “Stand when a lady enters the room.”
  • “Open the door for a lady.”
  • “Forgive quickly.”
  • “Forgive the person, not the crime.”
  • “The key to happiness is forgiveness.”