The Tenses of Forgiveness

December 21, 2013 — 69 Comments
Daily Prompt: Forgive and Forget?
Share a story where it was very difficult for you to forgive the perpetrator for wronging you, but you did it — you forgave them.

At five I walked myself to school.

I was a “latch key” kid.  Came home after school.  Made myself a snack.  Did my homework amidst the cacophony of five brothers. Horseplay. Arguments. Guitar. Swearing.  Piano.  Fist Fights.

My mother stopped in between jobs. Rushing, rushing, always rushing. The clock ticked 60 brief minutes while she hastened to put a meal on the table before leaving for her night job at 7.

“Mommy, look, look, I got 100 on my math test!” was lost in, “Michael, go to the store – now. I forgot to get rolls for the hamburgers.” By the time I was 13, I was the one putting the dinner on the table, so she could just sit down and eat.  Take a breath.

I was 5th in a family of incredibly bright overachievers.  Everything I did had been done before. Huge successes were not celebrated – they were expected.

The legacy of success. Past, present and future tense.  Living in the shadows of brilliant siblings. Simple past tense.

My eldest brother, 10 years my  senior, was our surrogate father. One year, he coached me to follow in his footsteps as Citywide Spelling Bee Champion. But after winning my school spelling bee, and the Regional, and making in into the coveted Citywide,  I did the unthinkable.

I lost.

My mother only said, on the way home, ”I can’t believe I took a day off from work for that.”

I spent five long years after college in therapy ridding myself of corrosive anger. Five years to forgive her and love her, as I do now. Five years to come to the conclusion we all already know:

She did the best she could.  Simple past tense.

Don’t all parents? Don’t I?

I forgive her. She worked 7 days a week at minimum wage jobs.  Her entire life was devoted to making sure we had food, shelter, clothing. Accolades were luxuries she couldn’t afford.

And today, as the parent of only one child, I forgive her even more. I struggle to balance working as a single mom and raising just one child. She somehow raised 6 of us. How is this even possible? Something had to be sacrificed.

It was my self esteem.

I forgive her.

Every day, I tell my son that he is special. That is smart. Funny. Handsome.

That he matters. To me, and to many people.  I am breaking the cycle. Parenthood is breaking the cycle of error and wanting for our children what was not given to us.

But inherent in the process is new error. Will my life narrative limit my present, and mar his future?

The present. The future. The tenses of forgiveness.

Are my early experience fate? Or a road map to forgiveness?

Each day I make mistakes. I hope, when my son is a man, that he is compassionate when he recalls his childhood. I hope he will see that I did the best I could.

I hope he will forgive me, as I did my mother.

But this is not the simple past tense of forgiveness:  “I forgave her.”

It is the future continuous tense of forgiveness: “I will continue to forgive her.”

I forgive her right now, For every time I doubt myself. Right now, I forgive her, right before I hit “Publish.”

Will they like it? Will it be good enough? Am I good enough? I may never be.

I forgave.

I am forgiving her.

I will continue to forgive.

The tenses of forgiveness. Simple past, past not perfect, past perfect continuous,  present, present continuous, present not perfect.

Future. Future continuous.

Constant. Relentless. Persistent.



Did you forgive someone when it was difficult? Talk to me.  I’m listening. 

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69 responses to The Tenses of Forgiveness


    That was a heart touching story based on some universal true facts. Life is all about tenses….what we have at present is someone’s past and will be someone’s future….and that someone is related to us. I love your story.


      Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, and to comment. I appreciate it so much. I can’t wait to visit your blog and get to know you.
      The “now” is a gift – that’s why they call it the present.


        That would be awesome I guess I can’t wait to see you around 🙂 Yes you are right !


        I wish I could take credit for this, but it’s just one of those cool new age type sayings that has been around forever. So true, though – isn’t it?

        I wish I only lived in the present, instead of having so much of what I do informed by the past. It’s my Achilles heel.


        Yes so true.
        Living in the present and forgetting about the past and most importantly future is the thing I am fighting with the most these days…. It is difficult but I believe we ll be able to do it someday 🙂


    She may have done the best she could and I can appreciate that she was overwhelmed, but she wasn’t fair to you. Good that you forgave her.

    Sitting with my coffee in a Whole Foods on Rt. 36. Can’t bang out a proper response on a smart phone, but will soon. Taking the girls to the Lower East Side tomorrow to a show at the New York Theater Workshop. Trying, trying, trying to be the man who doesn’t need to be forgiven, but I suppose it’s unavoidable. Might just as well try to be perfect.


      Mark, you are the father I wish I’d had. My whole life would have turned out differently.

      I spent my whole life looking for that. I never found it.

      I’m too old to keep looking. It is what it is.
      Thank you for being my friend.


        I wish it weren’t such a tired, worn out cliche because it’s too easy to dismiss, but that might be the nicest thing that anyone has ever said to me. I’ll never forget it.


        But it’s the truth, Mark. I see the way you are with your girls. The things you do for them. the things you do with them. They’re everything to you. A blind person can see that.

        And I meant it. If you were my father, there’s no way I would have ended up addicted to heroin when I got back from that tour. You would have been supporting me emotionally and artistically in a way that would have grounded me. You’re the kind of father who supports his daughters in their dreams.

        It made me more than happy to wake up to a video clip of your daughter’s choir concert.

        Your unabashed paternal pride is gorgeous.


        I had an excellent role model. Do the exact opposite and everything will turn out fine. So easy! You’ve figured that out as well, I see. A damn thing it didn’t get by us or our kids would’ve been the ones trying to pick up the pieces and glue them together.


        I guess you’re right.
        I’m doing everything the opposite.

        My mom had few choices, bless her heart. She worked like an animal at minimum wage jobs. She had zero role models herself – she was a foster child, never even adopted.

        She did the best she could.


    Good gravy, Samara. I’m not sure how to answer this one.
    I guess the best way is simply to answer the question you answered. When I was ten, my dad brought home a seventeen year old boy (Mr. X) who spent much of the year gaining my trust, only to break it in a pair of attempts to have intercourse with me. The first attempt was before my mom came up to tuck me in. When we heard her coming upstairs, he jumped off and had me covered up just in time to be at the door saying “Now don’t worry about those nightmares anymore, [Cimmy].” Looking back, I realize that if anyone came from my kid’s room claiming they were having nightmares, I would want to know about it. I would ask my kid, “what nightmares was Mr. X talking about, honey?” My mother didn’t ask.
    So, yes, I’ve been mad at my mother for not asking that question and at my dad for believing the crappy story Mr. X gave him that allowed him to come and live with us. Most of all, though, I’ve actively hated Mr. X. It has been comparatively easy to forgive my mother and my father. Mr. X, however, has required an ongoing effort to forgive. He is the only person on the face of this earth that I’ve ever held a grudge against. I’m still struggling to forgive him for the damage he did, even though he did no physical damage (I was too small, so he gave up) So I can easily say I understand your struggle to forgive your mother. Love you, girl.


      Did this X character ever apologize? Did you confront him? I don’t know how women are ever able to rise above sexual abuse. I really don’t. And sometimes, psychological damage can take longer to heal than physical damage.

      I predict that this string of comments will be a bumpy ride.


        I did hear from him when I was sixteen, but he never did apologize, I have no idea where he is or what happened to him and I beginning to think I’m better off not knowing. This happened to me when I was ten. I am now forty-four and I’m still dealing with psychological problems resulting from it. It pisses me off that I can’t just put this in my background and let it fade. However, I am the stronger for it and my kids are the safer.


        Cimmy, did you ever get professional help for this? I think it’s the only way women can try and recover from the trauma of being physically assaulted.

        And yes, these kinds of incidents make us strong protective mama-bears. I’d KILL anyone who tried to hurt my son. He’s the only person I can say that about.


        Yes, I have and still am getting professional help for this. Heaven help the fool who decided to do something like that to either of my kids. It would enrage jak, but he’d have to get through me first [flat angry glare].


        Rock you with your bad self, Cimmy! We’re a possible harm-doer’s worst nightmare!


        LOL, Thanks, Samara. That’s what I needed to see.


        Women don’t really ever rise above sexual abuse, in my experience. And the abusers rarely ever apologize. They just go about their scumbag lives, as if nothing ever happened. It didn’t for them.

        I can’t imagine having to be around X and not killing him so dead.


        samara’s right– they don’t. The abused still hurt, and the abusers feel no remorse. And it can cut more people than that– the story about how I was accused of raped involved people who had been abused. Abuse affects all the lives of loved ones, in my experience.


        This is kind of freaking me out a little bit. Clearly, locking the girls in the basement until they’re 32 isn’t the answer. How do I protect them? I need something that’s going to provide 100% assurance that they won’t meet up with any scumbags in their travels.


        How can any of us keep our kids safe?

        Do you know how hard it is for me to let my kid go to school after shootings? Every time I wait outside a crowded men’s room for him, my heart is in my throat.
        We live down the street from the school, and he’s 10, and he wants to walk to school himself. I figured I could just stand and watch him the whole way. All my friends said, “NO WAY. It only takes a second.”

        As a parent, we fear the worst. And pray for the best.


      I wish there was something I could do to take this away from you, from your past.

      I think it speaks volumes that you’ve been able to forgive your parents.

      Is it too late to press charges for sexual assault against Mr. X? How can you even stand to be anywhere near him, much less forgive him.You don’t need to forgive him, Cimmy. You need to beat the shit out of him. Or I will, so help me God. I’ll give a beating, project girl style, that he won’t forget.

      love you too.


        It was too late for me to press charges against him when I was sixteen and remembered it. As for forgiving him, I didn’t forgive him for him. I forgave him for ME! You can’t heal if you don’t forgive those who hurt you. As for beating him up, there’s a part of me that’s seriously tempted, Samara. OMG, that temptation is so damn strong! However, I don’t know where he is or what he’s doing. Last I heard, he was living in Oklahoma someplace. I don’t know for sure. I just want to get on with my life. I just want to get past it. Thank you for the offer, though. I think it speaks volumes about you that you care enough to be angry with him. Incidentally, I didn’t use his real name, which I remember. I just… I want to stop hurting and I can’t because the scars he made are still there. I want to be able to walk up to him in a public place and say, “Hey, I remember you,” and NOT paste him one. I think if I could get to that place, I could finally, FINALLY heal.


        I’m not sure if I’m with you on this one. Is this true? That in order to heal, you have to forgive those who wronged you?

        This may be true in most cases but not in sexual assault. That I don’t think I can forgive.


        I’m positive it’s true. I don’t know if it means anything to you, but I don’t believe in holding grudges. That my frustrating anger against Mr. X is the only grudge I can remember ever holding means I’m going against my own beliefs. As I said, I want to get past him. I can’t do that if I’m occupied with hating him. Also, I’m willing to bet that turd doesn’t have the slightest clue of just how much he hurt me. My hatred can’t hurt him. It only hurts me. So, if I keep hating him, then THAT F***ER WINS!! I don’t want him to win. I’m not a victim! I’m a survivor.


        Also thought I was over this enough that I could talk about it without crying. ;'(


        I hope you don’t think that, because I’m crying, I don’t want to continue to talk about this. Just like when a wound becomes infected, sometimes the best way to heal is to bleed. So please, keep asking questions. Tears or not, I think I still need to talk.


        I would stay and talk with you all night on this – but my son and I have a damn holiday party to go to across the street.
        it started at 5, and he’s already gone. He’s pissed off because I’m not even dressed yet. Who needs a husband, when I already have that dynamic in my house with a 10 year old boy?

        Stay strong, Cimmorene. Cry it out if you have to. Write it out if you have to. Hold your children tight.


        I forgot to mention something important. I don’t know how religious you are, but this was one of the reasons I could start to forgive Mr. X rather than letting my hatred of him poison my life. I remembered a scripture that said that anyone who offends one of the Lord’s little ones would wish that a millstone could be hung around his neck and he could be thrown into the sea. I realize then that the Lord understands both me and Mr. X. better than we understand ourselves. No revenge I could ever hope to gain in this life will ever compare to the revenge He will be able to get for me. It was understanding this that led me to beginning to hope Mr. X would repent of his evil. It’s not easy to repent of such persistent evil, but I can’t help but hope he will, so as not to have to meet the wrath of the Lord if he doesn’t. Then, if he doesn’t, it’s his own fault if he gets hurt, not mine. I’ll still be able to meet the Lord’s gaze when the time comes. Again, I don’t know where Mr. X. is. It’s probably better that I don’t. Also, side note, forgiveness doesn’t equal trust. I wouldn’t be anywhere private with Mr. X and I would NEVER meet him alone or with my children in tow.


        Resentment is poison you swallow, while you wait for the other person to die.

        You chose the high road, and I get it. You’re a better person than me.


        I highly doubt that, but thank you for the compliment all the same.


        Don’t sell yourself short, mi vida… you’ve taught me a lot about forgiveness yourself. Mostly about forgiving myself.

        G’nite samara. I’ve suggested to Cimmy maybe she should consider submitting to BBW. I’ve got a personal invitation already as you may have seen


    So this is justice, part 2

    For years and years I wanted my mother to meet justice. For her to pay for all the wrong she’d done to me, crushing and violating my soul. When she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I had this thought: “Is this the justice you wanted?” No, I said. Not like this. This isn’t what I wanted. I wouldn’t wish anything so cruel.


      I have to read your posts to really get into your head here, but I suspect you suffered much more than I ever did. It sounds terrible, and I’m almost afraid to delve into it.

      My mother had no idea what she was doing to my self esteem. That spelling bee story was a tiny tip of the iceberg.

      I spent my whole childhood trying to get her to notice me; to stand out in the group of the six of us. She worked 7 days a week, 70 hours a week. She can’t be blamed. It was no one’s fault.

      But it sucked just the same.


        I don’t think I left much more than hints, really. I was combing through my old LiveJournal posts for my “10 years of blogging” series here, and I found some locked away entries on all my rage, my anger, that I had shared only to Cimmy.

        I think I can summarize, but I apologize if it’s triggering. When I was 6, I had a ton of sexuality dumped in my lap. My parents decided to have me shower with them so I could observe… differences in anatomy. If my mother had followed my father’s lead I think things would have been better, but she went to great pains to point out all her parts. I was curious, as little boys are, and I couldn’t understand why I was getting my hand slapped. I didn’t really understand what it all meant. My folks gave me such mixed messages– when I started understanding more, they said less and less.

        Sex ed at school– wow. While my guy classmates in fifth grade were laughing their heads off out of embarrassment (I would have had no idea save a buddy of mine explained), I was asking the instructor if anal penetration was pleasurable, basically. That very same year, I went to see a psychologist. I can still remember my mother chiding me before a session, telling me something like, “You stop telling him what he wants to hear– you go in and tell him the truth.” Shit. I was too repressed to tell the psychologist the truth, and possibly get into more trouble.


    Fuuuuuuuck we have so much in common! And you hit a nerve with this post. I have not forgiven my mother. Not enough. This latch key kid is still pissed. But I shouldn’t be. I’m in a parking lot right now with teary eyes cuz I know she did her best, yet I hold onto anger. We’ve always had a shallow relationship. Another person in my family I keep at arms length…..
    You write so beautifully. xoxo


      Beautiful girl-
      I’m sorry I hit a nerve with this one. latch key kids are usually still a little pissed off, i think.
      if you ever need to talk, I’m only an inbox away.
      xo, samara


    Samara, beautifully articulated, well done. Such a difficult and on-going experience is forgiveness, more so when it is linked to your deep desire not to repeat the need for lil Dude to forgive you for the same stuff later. Nevertheless, even in your best, he will have to forgive you for something, somewhere along the line…maybe all this practice forgiving your Mother will allow you to forgive yourself as well when the time comes. Love your work, write on, I say, write on! Respect REDdog


      Red- this is almost psychic- was on your blog last night, reading “I don’t give a flying” and didn’t get to leave a comment. And now here you are! That’s so uncanny! But thank you for your compliment, and for thinking of Little Dude – they always come first in our hearts, don’t they?

      Have a wonderful holiday season with your 3 not-so-little dudes. I am stopping by your blog after I finish baking a zillion cookies. Big love to you, my friend, for getting me.


        Yes, Darl, I get you, probably for all the wrong reasons but that’s okay, birds of a feather and all that, right? Enjoy your bake-up. I look forward to your comments. Rd. p.s. if you feel like wasting an hour or so, I wrote a series of linked pieces about being a monumental fuck up…it’s a bit long winded but it might fill in some of the gaps as to why I get you and stuff.


    I could relate to some of this, Samara. The big family, barely getting by, feeling lost in the shuffle. My parents were just trying to do the best they could, and yes, they made mistakes along the way, too. Wonderful, heartfelt post. I hope it lightens your load. – Amy


      Amy, I’m just so happy you’re here! Thank you for stopping by and reading and giving support. So you had a big family, too? It’s hard – and “getting lost in the shuffle” is a great way to describe it..
      It does feel a little better having gotten it out. That’s part of the plan, isn’t it?


    Grasshopper.. These are words which bring a tear to this souls eyes. Very good. Forgiveness releases the pain! Very good!


      Master Po-
      I am a work in progress. These are the steps I’m willing to take to get to the other side.

      I’m tired of the fucking pain! I want bliss! I’m off to get yogalicous!



    I’m not sure I would have been able to respond to the prompt… Not because I’ve never been wronged. I have. Not because I’ve never forgiven. I’ve done that too. But, because the wrongs I have forgiven, I’ve also forgotten. I can think back to moments of pain, and remember those, but not remember the cause. Maybe if I stopped long enough to play back the whole scene it would come to me, but as I’m typing this I’m still at a loss. However, I have plenty of wrongs that I have never forgiven, and never plan to forgive. Those I recall with perfect clarity. I’m not sure what that says about me? We are supposed to forgive and forget, right? But, why? If I forget then I might make the same mistake, I might get myself into a situation where I can be hurt again, I might be less vigilant in avoiding the people and circumstances that have caused me pain before. Doesn’t it make more sense to remember? Maybe there is something wrong with me…
    Then again, I know there is nothing wrong with me, because I’m doing the best I can. Just as you are doing the best you can, and your best is a damn sight better than most.


      There is nothing wrong with you that I can see. I think, there are some wrongs we hold like a cloak around us for protection. I backed into a situation that caused me excruciating pain this fall. I feel like I almost didn’t survive it. I actually am going to post it, so I can rid myself of it before going into the new year. I’m not taking that shit with me in 2014.

      You always say the right thing. What an excellent father the Prince has! You know a lot about unconditional love. You always support me. Thank you for saying that my best is so good – I’m not sure of that. But I must have done something right – I ended up with you as a friend.

      Happy holidays, my friend. Much love to you, the Queen and the Prince at the Matticus Kingdom.


      Doesn’t it make more sense to remember? Maybe there is something wrong with me…

      I would like to be able to forget. That would make more sense to me. The mental scars won’t seem to let me, however.


        I think some things would definitely be better to be forgotten… things that were done to you, things you had no control over. But, some things, mistakes we’ve made, situations we’ve put ourselves in… those make sense to remember so we can change our behaviors and not end up in the same places…


        Yeah, I do understand where you’re coming from there… “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” and so on. I guess it’s a balance, really. I seem to remember scientific studies suggesting we need to forget a certain amount of things to better be able to remember, such as observations concerning what’s now called the autistic savant condition.


        That’s interesting, I’m not familiar with any of that, I’m going to have to go look it up right now.


    Beautiful and touching, thank you for sharing and clearly helping others that have read this


    I only imagine it will be a thousand times more obvious when I have my own kids, but I am constantly taken aback by how much I didn’t appreciate my Mom while I was growing up– I too came from a family of overachievers and was kid #5 and often lost in the rush. It was easy to think my Mom was not attentive enough but I realize now that she had her own battles and was barely surviving… It’s a weird cycle, that we can’t see all of this until it feels “too late.” I suppose it never really is though.


      It’s too hard when you’re young to really understand – my son “understands” but only intellectually, certain things. He doesn’t really get it.

      I had to grow up and become an adult to fully understand exactly what an undertaking it is to do what she did.

      It’s easy to get lost in a big family of overachievers. Thank goodness we survived!


    I know this process well. Actually wrote a letter to my mum just the other day. Posted it on the blog. Then took it down. Not sure why. Some things just happen I guess. Forgiving seems to require repetition. Constant reminders. But then, sometimes, for me at least, those reminders serve only as saddening mementos, highlighting that the pain still rings, and that its source is, too, constant. I enjoyed this. Thanks.


    I’m sorry that such ugly pain came out of me the way it did… this is still very much a process for me.


    Hey there. Beth sent me the link to this post and I’m so glad she did. Your words ring very true and vivid to me. I had a very different experience growing up but the understanding that the person did the best she could to raise me is what I am finally coming to see. I don’t know if I’m ready to forgive but the idea of forgiveness is starting to seem like a possibility…even though I am fighting the need to do it. Great piece.


    I’ve heard a lot of people talk about “breaking the chain,” for a lot of different reasons. My opinion is that we’re meant to evolve a bit each generation, and get better and better as our genes (or our souls?) pass down the line.

    I think your son is lucky as all get-out to have you.


      Thank you, my love!

      I’m making mistakes with him, I’m sure. But he’s definitely getting a sense of confidence, of feeling seen and important, that I never got.

      I make certain of it.

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