Forgive or Forget?

“I’ve forgotten all the reasons I loved you, ’till someone tells me that you rang. The memories are hazy now. I don’t recall at all. There’s nothing. There’s nothing there, just me. And I don’t understand why.” ~Phil Collins

I’ve forgotten so many things over the course of my 41 years of life on this earth, some that I wanted desperately to forget, and others that I wanted desperately to save from extinction. But they all went just the same — in time. Because time is the ultimate equalizer in all things, isn’t it?

It’s always been interesting to me when people say they never forget. That means they just hang on like a dog with a bone, struggling to keep grip while everything around them disintegrates. In fact, it often means that whatever they are hanging onto cut so bone deep that they feel they can’t let it go.

Now forgiveness — that’s another animal altogether. It means we aren’t forgetting, but we are moving on. It’s the world of second chances that exists specifically because we will it to be. It’s where the saying that “It happens twice, shame on me” happens to live. Some people just aren’t hardwired to forgive, though. They like to say whatever happened was “unforgivable,” but what they really mean to say is that they don’t want to forgive.

You see — forgetting is a natural element, but forgiveness is a choice. We can’t help the forgetting. Time will eventually take care of that for us. But forgiving is a conscious choice. It means we have to be vulnerable, that we have to give something without expecting anything in return. It’s the hope of change without the actuality of that change prior to that hope.

So when people say “You need to forgive and forget,” I often ask them which one do they really want? Because if it’s forgiveness, that is mine to give as freely as my own mother gave me this life of mine. But if it’s forgetting, that’s something I can’t promise. It’s the experiences I have that shape who I am, so even if I had the capacity to forget on cue, would I really want to? Would I want to be the kind of man who would forget something that was instrumental in getting me to where I am now, for better or for worse?

Forgiving can accomplish a lot, though. Have you ever wondered why we forget things in the first place? Generally, we forget things because they cease to be foremost in our minds. They are no longer at the surface, having been replaced by so much else that life throws our way over the course of each and every day. That’s probably why forgiving and forgetting are often linked in the phrase. Because when we truly forgive then whatever we have forgiven is no longer on the surface of our brains.

Wow. That’s fascinating when I think about it. But it’s not forgetting. It’s prioritizing. It’s truly getting past something, which doesn’t take forgetting at all. It takes remembering, but not the offending action. Instead, we remember that we took the high road, that we made ourselves vulnerable, and hopefully that second chance was worth it. It’s not being “kind, but weak,” but instead being open to giving others the benefit of the doubt.

I  very much like thinking of it that way.


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