Three grubby bikers wound up discussing forgiveness, of all things, after getting delayed by a rainstorm in upstate NY. Their original intent was to gas up, grab some chow, and continue their journey from Fort Ticonderoga up to Au Sable Chasm, but a violent rain storm changed all that.
Discussing forgiveness was not even on their radar. They were concerned with how long it was going to take for the front to pass through. When it became apparent from a smart phone weather app that it was probably going to be a lengthy wait (six hours as it turned out), they had no choice but to shelter their bikes, and then hunker down over some chili dogs and coffee.
The forgiveness discussion started after maps had been pored over exploring all possible avenues of escaping the rain, after the routes of previous trips had been reviewed, and after outlines for future trips had been recorded.
There was no direct spark that began the conversation, nor was there any unfinished business between the brothers that required more forgiveness then that they had already granted each other. Brothers are bound to butt heads over hurt feelings, women, or who Mom loved best, and those matters had been put to rest long ago. In fact, the brothers could talk about past problems between them, and shake their heads in disbelief that they could have been so selfish, so childish, and so ignorant.
But there was something about forgiveness that piqued their interest. Motorcycle joys mature with age and experience.
Forgiveness, they decided, is simple to understand, yet difficult to implement. There is the simple, superficial forgiveness of words spoken merely in the desire to just get along. Yet the mere act of saying “I forgive you,” doubles-down forgiveness. The heart of the one forgiven is eased and, at the same time, a sense of peace is granted to the forgiver the very moment the words are spoken. It’s palpable.
Forgiveness eliminates the desire for vengeance. Brother Brian described the futility of vengeance, that long, rainy afternoon, with the example of an individual who swallows poison expecting it to kill his adversary. Don’t swallow the poison. Forgive your enemies.
But forgiving is hard. I get all self-righteous, and stubborn about it. I am the one, after all, who has been wronged by that stupid mother-fucker and he doesn’t give a shit about how I feel. Fuck him! I’ll fix that bastard!
My mind goes off somewhere (close to hell), devising elaborate schemes for revenge, the nastier the better. Yeah…yeah, I know, vengeance is a dish best served cold and I will serve it cold – well…not icy-cold. There has to be some heat in it or I will not enjoy my vengeance as much as I want to, and I do, SO, want to bask in my vengeance!
Instead, the lesson is that I must forgive. As hard as this may be, its upside is that its rewards are immediate. Like a single tab of Tums, forgiveness neutralizes the cauldron of boiling bile in the pit of the stomach.
Additionally, there is a satisfaction available in realizing that our enemies are forever possessed by their demons. BUT we must not revel in that self-satisfaction because it only diminishes us. Evil-doers will remain caught in the traps of their own making until they learn to forgive themselves, and change their ways.
Forgiving one’s self can be the most difficult type of forgiveness of all.
Let’s take divinity out of Christ for a moment – just for purposes of this discussion. Christ, the philosopher, preached forgiveness. It was a central message of his ministry. He taught not only the forgiveness of others (“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”), but he also taught forgiveness of self. Christ taught that we must admit to our own wrongdoings, our faults – our “sins”, and repent. The result is the elimination of the burden of that sin. We free ourselves to live our futures newborn, or, as some say, born again.
To brother Gregory, forgiving is two words – for giving him the freedom to let go and get on with his life. When we forgive we don’t change the past, we change our futures. Forgiving is a gift we give ourselves.
There is visible proof of the power of forgiveness. Pope John Paul II forgave the man who tried to assassinate him and the man converted to Christianity. We expect that of Popes but other examples can be taken from the news headlines. The so-called Green River Killer is a self-confessed serial killer of scores of female prostitutes. The man committed so many murders he could not even remember which victims were which. Throughout his incarceration, he showed no signs of remorse. He remained a stone-cold killer. At his sentencing, family members of his victims were allowed to speak. Most cursed him but the father of one of the victims forgave him. Only then did his stone-cold demeanor break. You can see it for yourself here.
The discussion about forgiveness made that long, rainy afternoon memorable.
After the storm passed, the brothers mounted their bikes and headed for Lake Saranac, a necessary change of plans due to the weather. The sky was still gray but the weatherman had assured them that the rain had passed.
Not so. A short run out of Ticonderoga it started to drizzle. They rode on hoping for a change for the better, but the drizzle turned into a cold, hard rain. They pushed on for another two hours, finally arriving at their lodging for the night with stiff, frozen fingers and cold, cramped legs.